Osborne Clarke successful in judgment that paves the way for international media claims to be brought in England

Written on 12 Nov 2020

Osborne Clarke's international disputes team successfully defended a challenge to the English court's jurisdiction in Qatar Airways' malicious falsehood claims against the Al Arabiya News Channel

The jurisdiction challenge raised several complex and important issues relevant to global tort cases. In dismissing that challenge, the judgment dispels a widely-perceived rule that malicious falsehood claims brought in England could not include claims in respect of publication outside the jurisdiction.

The dispute

The case relates to the economic blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which has been in place since 2017. Qatar Airways' claim concerns a video simulation published in 2017 by UAE-based news organisation Al Arabiya. The video purported to explain the effect of the blockade, but also depicted an aircraft being intercepted and shot at by a fighter plane. It was viewed in the UK and multiple other jurisdictions and attracted widespread media outrage at the time.

Qatar Airways, represented by Osborne Clarke, issued claims in the English High Court against Al Arabiya in relation to the video, asserting malicious falsehood and conspiracy to injure. Qatar Airways claims for its worldwide losses caused by the effect of video in deterring passengers from flying with the airline.

Al Arabiya challenged the English Court's jurisdiction to hear the claims, arguing that they should be heard in the UAE courts. The challenge was heavily fought across a wide range of issues, with a hearing taking place over three days before Mr Justice Saini on 14-16 October 2020.

The decision

Agreeing with Qatar Airways, the court dismissed the jurisdiction challenge in a 130 page judgment handed down on 6 November 2020.

Amongst numerous other points, Al Arabiya sought to argue that the UAE was the most appropriate forum for the claims. However, the Court accepted that the UAE had become a "hostile environment" for Qataris and that Qatar Airways would be at a significant disadvantage if it had to litigate in the UAE.

In allowing the malicious falsehood claim in relation to publication outside the jurisdiction, the court also confirmed that there is no special rule barring such claims, and that jurisdiction is established simply by reference to the normal jurisdictional rules that apply to all cases.

Andrew Bartlett (Partner) and Kristian Assirati (Senior Associate) advised on the jurisdictional issues with support from the Media and Information Law disputes team headed by Ashley Hurst.  Tom Raphael QC and Sam Goodman (of 20 Essex Street chambers) acted as counsel.  Osborne Clarke's international disputes team has extensive experience in complex jurisdiction challenges such as this.

Andrew Bartlett comments: "This became a ground-breaking and phenomenally complex application from a conflicts of laws perspective but one in which simplicity and pragmatism have ultimately prevailed."