In the recent case Courtney v Cayman News Service Ltd & Ors  QSC 37, the Supreme Court of Queensland handed down their latest decision in the ongoing saga that is Simon Courtney’s defamation case. This most recent instalment, which saw the court reject an application for summary judgment, contains some important warnings for litigants who may be considering their options for ending proceedings early through an application for summary judgment.
Simon Courtney, who was formerly a corporate lawyer, was arrested in the Cayman Islands in 2015 when his car collided with an elderly couple on the way home from a five-hour champagne brunch. Although Courtney claimed he tried to approach the victims and offer assistance, according to court documents, CCTV footage showed Courtney leaving the scene of the accident on foot, leaving his wife in the vehicle. Ultimately, Courtney was convicted of two counts of grievous bodily harm and one count of reckless driving. Courtney unsuccessfully appealed his conviction.
Courtney’s case sparked the interest of several local media outlets, with some online newspapers reporting on the trial and others publishing editorials condemning Courtney’s conduct. Courtney now resides in Queensland and initiated proceedings against several news outlets for defamation in the Supreme Court of Queensland. After about two years of proceedings, Courtney filed an application for summary judgment in July 2021.
What is an application for summary judgment?
The litigation process can be protracted, costly, and frustrating- particularly when it seems like one side of the matter has no real prospects of success but is dragging out the inevitable. In such cases, it may be appropriate to apply for a summary judgment. Summary judgment enables the plaintiff or defendant to cut the proceedings short and end the matter without the need for a trial.
In Queensland, rules 292 and 293 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (Qld) (“UCPR”) enable plaintiffs and defendants, respectively, to apply for summary judgment after a defence has been filed. Under these rules, summary judgment may be granted if the court can be satisfied that:
- The plaintiff or defendant has no real prospect of succeeding; and
- There is no need for a trial of the claim or the part of the claim.
While summary judgment can be a highly attractive prospect for litigants, applications only succeed in the clearest possible of cases as, in the interests of justice, the court prefers not to improperly deprive any party the right to a trial.
The court rejected Courtney’s application on the basis that there were numerous defences available to defendants that had a real chance of success and therefore summary judgment was not available. Although his Honour Jackson J acknowledged that the defences filed were non-compliant with the UCPR, he went beyond the defence raised to consider whether a defence was available to each of the defamatory imputations raised. Jackson J also considered both the causation and quantum of damages, stating as follows:
“The way in which the plaintiff distinguishes between the loss or damage that he claims was caused by the alleged defamatory imputations whilst wholly leaving aside the loss or damage to his reputation that was necessarily caused by publication of the factual bases of his convictions for the offences of inflicting grievous bodily harm and reckless driving in the circumstances found by the courts of the Cayman Islands is also counterintuitive and incomprehensible.”
The judgment also raised issues relating to whether the Supreme Court of Queensland was an appropriate jurisdiction, given that the only connection to Queensland was that Courtney now happens to reside there. Additionally, Jackson J discussed that Courtney’s claim may be liable to be struck out or permanently stayed for abuse of process. While Jackson J did not reach a determination on these matters as they were not necessary to decide for the application for summary judgment, these comments may foreshadow future applications and orders to come.
For litigants, Courtney’s case contains two important messages:
A deficient defence does not always mean that an application for summary judgment will succeed
In Courtney’s case, the defences did not dispute that the majority of the key facts, were non-compliant with the UCPR, but generally positively alleged that the articles conveyed an accurate summary of the court proceedings concerning the plaintiff or their outcomes. Despite the procedural deficiencies in the defences filed, the application was still rejected as the judge focused on whether a defence with real prospects of success was available.
For litigants, Courtney’s case is a reminder that applications for summary judgment can fail even when there are technical deficiencies in the filed pleading.
It’s important to be proactive when responding to a claim, even if you think it is frivolous
In his judgment, Jackson J commented on a number of significant issues with Courtney’s claim- ranging from inappropriate forum to potential abuse of process. However, Jackson J did not reach a determination regarding these issues as they were not relevant for deciding the application for summary judgment. Had the defendants brought these issues to the attention of the court and applied for relief, it is possible that the whole matter would have been dismissed. However, as several of the defendants were not legally represented, it is possible that they were unaware of their legal rights in this regard.
For litigants, Courtney’s case is a reminder of the importance of getting high-quality legal advice early in the proceedings, even if the other side’s case seems frivolous. At Rouse Lawyers our litigation team is highly experienced with achieving excellent outcomes for both plaintiffs and defendants. Please reach out to Rouse Lawyers for an obligation-free consult today.
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Accordingly, the information on this site is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not providing legal advice. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult with a professional lawyer from Rouse Lawyers.