High Court rejects barrister’s bid for Lib Dems disclosure order


Hayes: Founder member of party

The High Court has rejected a practising barrister’s application for an order requiring the Liberal Democrats to disclose the identities of people who made anonymous complaints about her.

Mr Justice Johnson said Josephine Hayes, who represented herself, had not established a “good arguable claim” to justify the grant of a Norwich Pharmacal order.

She had also sought to compel a man called Stephen Paul Dudhill to reveal the identities of people using anonymous X/Twitter accounts who said things “to which she takes exception”.

The court heard that Ms Hayes, who was a founder member of the party, was “concerned about the manipulation of political debate and public opinion by deceitful means, including by the use of online social media platforms”.

Ms Hayes was elected to its federal board in January 2020 and was chair of the East of England regional party.

She published a blog in December 2020 in which she explained her suspicions about a campaign against a prominent anti-Brexit campaigner who lived in her region.

Johnson J said the barrister received an email from a Monica Andersson, who she believed was not their real name, accusing her of “bullying, harassment and potential defamation”.

Ms Hayes said she was then the target of “a co-ordinated campaign of harassment”.

Monica Andersson then made a complaint about Ms Hayes to the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which it dismissed.

Johnson J said multiple complaints were made to the Lib Dems, on a named and anonymous basis. Messages were posted on X by Mr Dudhill and others, accusing the barrister of “telling lies, being part of a hate campaign, and infiltrating the Liberal Democrats”.

Ms Hayes published a second blog on Monica Andersson later in December 2020. Mr Dudhill then emailed her clerk and “expressed an intention to make a complaint” to her chambers about it. In the event, he did not do this but said he would complain to the BSB.

In summer 2021, Mr Dudhill again emailed the barrister’s clerk, offering to provide the person responsible for complaints at her chambers with evidence as to the identities of those who had complained about Ms Hayes, to prove they were genuine. The offer was not taken up.

Ms Hayes was expelled from the party after a complaint was upheld and is challenging that decision in the High Court. She has raised £6,577 towards her legal costs on CrowdJustice – her initial target was £5,000, with a stretch target of £100,000.

She applied for a Norwich Pharmacal order against the BSB, Mr Dudhill and the Lib Dems last year.

Master McCloud granted the application in respect of the BSB, which it did not contest, but not the other two, saying she was not satisfied that Mr Dudhill was “mixed up” in any wrongdoing. In respect of the Lib Dems, she was not satisfied that the threshold had been met for an order.

Ms Hayes appealed, arguing that she had a “good arguable case” for different causes of action.

Delivering judgment in Hayes v the Liberal Democrats and Dudhill [2023] EWHC 3166 (KB), Johnson J said Ms Hayes had established an arguable case that neither the person who made a complaint against her, nor the person who operated a particular X account, was who she said she was.

But that was “not sufficient to show that an order should be made”, he said – Ms Hayes also needed a good arguable claim in law against the defendants whose identities she sought.

The pleaded causes of action were malicious falsehood and conspiracy and the judge said the barrister had not provided enough information to suggest that the complaints to the Lib Dems were likely to result in her sustaining “actionable damage” for the purposes of either.

The “logic” of her case against the unidentified defendants was that, if it was established that Monica Andersson was a pseudonym, the defendants must have been acting maliciously with an intent to injure her.

“That does not follow,” Johnson J said, as it assumed the defendants knew that it was a pseudonym.

“The appellant suggested that she had established a good arguable claim in harassment merely by pointing to the complaints that had been made against her. I disagree. In order to meet the requisite minimum level of seriousness it would, in practice, be necessary to establish malice and some form of tangible harm.”

Johnson J said Ms Hayes also mentioned malicious prosecution, wasting police time, Communications Acts offences and breach of the GDPR.

“There was no sufficient attempt, either in the evidence or in the oral argument, to explain how it was that the appellant had a good arguable case under any of the headings she identified. It is not sufficient simply to mention a tort or crime or legal wrong in order to establish a good arguable claim.”

Johnson J said it followed that he agreed with Master McCloud that the barrister had not established a good arguable claim so as to justify the possible grant of Norwich Pharmacal relief.




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