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 EWHC 795 QB, Queen's Bench Division - Stuart Brittenden
A claimant employee's application for an interim injunction restraining the defendants from harassing or publicly defaming her in their conduct and defence of employment tribunal proceedings brought against them was refused. It was a clear abuse of the court's process and an interference with the proper conduct of those proceedings and their just resolution.
The applicant (V) applied for an interim injunction in libel and harassment against the respondents who opposed the application and applied for a stay of the action pending the hearing of V's claim in the employment tribunal.
V had brought nine claims for discrimination, unlawful detriment following a protected disclosure, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal against the first respondent employer (L). The second to seventh respondents (R) were employees of L and the eighth respondent was an occupational health consultant who had interviewed her. In February 2012 the first three sets of proceedings brought by V were dismissed by the employment tribunal. V was ordered to pay a third of L's costs. The rest of her claim was due to be heard in September 2013. V brought the instant claim in February 2012 and L applied to stay the proceedings until the hearing had taken place in the employment tribunal. V then issued her application for an interim injunction to restrain L and R from harassing or publicly defaming her in their conduct and defence of the tribunal proceedings.
L and R submitted that (1) the injunction application was ill-founded and was being made for a collateral and abusive purpose to interfere with the proper resolution of the issues between the parties; (2) the proper course was to let the tribunal proceedings take their course and for V's libel action to be stayed.
HELD: (1) The sole purpose of the injunction application was to prevent L and R from making statements which V anticipated would be defamatory of her when defending her claims before the tribunal. That would obviously interfere with the proper conduct of those proceedings and their just resolution. It was a clear abuse of the court's process. L and R intended to defend V's claim by relying on defences of justification, honest comment and qualified privilege and an interim injunction would not generally be granted in such circumstances, Bonnard v Perryman  2 Ch. 269 and Greene v Associated Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 1462,  Q.B. 972 followed. It was not the sort of exceptionally rare case where the court should make a determination in advance of trial, particularly having regard to the background of the litigation and the inadequacy of V's pleaded case. There was no evidence that L and R had done anything or were likely to do anything in the tribunal proceedings which gave rise to a claim in harassment. Further, it was a defence that the conduct of which V complained was pursued in accordance with case management directions and orders made by the tribunal in accordance with its statutory powers. V had not demonstrated that she was likely to succeed in her claim of harassment at trial and an interim injunction was not granted (see paras 17-18, 22, 24-26, 31-33 of judgment). (2) The tribunal proceedings and V's claim in harassment and defamation centred on the same circumstances relating to her treatment as an employee. There were cogent considerations in favour of the tribunal proceedings being dealt with first: it was first seised of the matter and was the obvious place for the resolution of V's claims relating to her employment; the tribunal proceedings were well-advanced and time and resources had already been dedicated to them. It would not be just and proportionate for the High Court proceedings to be heard before the tribunal proceedings. A stay of the High Court proceedings was ordered (paras 38, 40-41, 43, 47).
Counsel for the 1st to 7th respondents: Stuart Brittenden.