One of the few joys of court reporting is early access to what are known as the pleadings in civil litigation: The claimant’s claim form, statement and/or particulars of the claim and the defendant’s statement of grounds of defence.
More so, if one or more of the parties to the litigation is well known, the claim is novel or controversial, or there is, potentially, a career, a reputation or a large sum of money hanging in the balance. The claim of the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) against Associated Newspapers Ltd (specifically, the Mail on Sunday) being a recent and very high profile example.
Witness statements and exhibits are not available unless and until their contents have been ventilated in court. Even then, the judge may, on application from a party to the litigation, impose restrictions on reporting for a variety of reasons.
A journalist, or a resourceful member of the public, can apply to the administration office of the court for the pleadings, on payment of a copying fee, if they know where the claim has been filed, the names of the parties and the court reference number.
In the claim that is the subject of this article such an application was made particularly straightforward as all those details were published on the internet by Law360, a subscription-based legal news service, almost immediately after it was filed at the Royal Courts of Justice on 10th January, 2023.
It was even easier for the author of this article, Neil Wilby, as he had tracked the case of Dr Zahid Chauhan OBE -v- Raja Miah OBE since the Pre-Action Protocol letter was issued in November, 2022 and has been in contact with the claimant’s public relations agency since that time (read more here).
Dr Chauhan’s Claim
At the heart of the claim are a series of allegedly offensive written posts and broadcasts made by Raja Miah, a notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, on his frequently banned Recusant Nine social media platforms.
The Particulars of Claim, running to 54 pages and drafted by a specialist media and communications barrister, Jonathan Scherbel-Hall, set them out in highly forensic detail.
For legal reasons, the Particulars are not repeated in detail here but, on any independent reading, there can be no doubt at all about the nature, extent and seriousness of the case pleaded against the defendant – or the damage said to be suffered to the reputation of the claimant by allegations, imputations or innuendo of lying, corruption and suspected criminality, including dishonesty and serious fraud.
A significant number of offensive comments below Recusant Nine posts or transmissions form part of the defamation claim. Most, if not all, come from a core group of Raja Miah’s supporters whom self-style as ‘The Rabble’, including their de facto Leader, Gary Tarbuck.
Other notable Rabble members who may yet, ironically, contribute to the financial downfall of their cultish hero are Chris Downing, Denise Leach, Lynne Kovacs, Julie Heywood and Oldham Eye (read more about the latter two here and here).
Dr Chauhan is a highly respected, nationally-known health campaigner and Labour politician. He also runs two general practices in Oldham and is this year’s Deputy Mayor in the Borough, having retired from the Council’s Cabinet to take up that role. He is also chief executive of BARDOC, a not for profit provider of General Practitioner services, established in 1996 as a GP co-operative, principally serving patients in Bury, Rochdale and Bolton.
In summary, the defamation claim seeks £50,000 damages, aggravated damages for libel; an injunction restraining the defendant, or his agents, from repeating the defamatory claims; an Order that the defendant will publish a summary of the final judgment in this action; and the claimant’s costs.
Other settled and unsettled claims
Amicable settlements have been reached with Paul Errock, a local businessman and political pundit, and the Oldham Chronicle over similar alleged infractions (read more here). A letter before action was also issued to Cllr Mark Kenyon, a Liberal Democrat Member of Oldham Council, but there has been no announcement, as yet, from either of the litigants as to the present status of that dispute. It is understood, however, from reliable sources that the matter will be compromised, ultimately.
Further defamatory posts
On even the most cursory inspection, Raja Miah has continued to defame his legal opponent. Even after service of the claim on 17th January, 2023. Twitter and Facebook posts, and YouTube transmissions, continue to assert or impute that Dr Chauhan is, variously, corrupt, carrying out unlawful or criminal acts and covering up the actions of grooming gangs. Shared many times by The Rabble and with accompanying derogatory commentary.
Raja Miah’s defence
The defence filed by the unemployed, Bradford-born conspiracy theorist, extending to thirteen A4 pages, is, to an uncomfortable extent, a pot pourri of assertion, allegation, opinion and hearsay, and focuses on these areas.
a) An attack on Dr Chauhan’s instructed lawyers, Manchester-based litigation specialists, JMW Solicitors, claiming they have not complied with pre-action protocol or offered alternative dispute resolution (ADR). A quick reference to Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) at part 53 appears to place Miah in error regarding compliance with protocol.
b) A legal concept – Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) – that is not yet on the statute book or a recognised defence to a defamation claim, statutory or otherwise [A detailed analysis of SLAPPs, what they are and how they can be regulated or defended is set out at this link].
c) A reliance on the matters in dispute being published elsewhere, notably by the Liberal Democrats, The Oldham Chronicle, The Oldham Times and Neil Wilby Media. Ergo, they must be true. The first two are dealt with above in the section headed ‘Settled and unsettled claims’. The latter two, on careful analysis, had crafted their articles to avoid defamation claims. As such, they are not involved in any dispute with Dr Chauhan.
d) An assertion that the allegations against him are not adequately particularised. Preventing, he says, ‘a comprehensive and detailed defence to the allegations being made’.
e) An absence of particulars of financial loss and damage to reputation suffered by the claimant (damages for libel are reserved for assessment by an experienced judge at the conclusion of defamation proceedings, as a penal or deterrent sanction not a reflection of any actual losses suffered). Lawyers acting for Dr Chauhan have placed an upper limit of £50,000 on damages. Presumably, in order to constrain court fees.
f) A claim that the disputed posts are ‘ factually accurate’ and the allegations of defamation are ‘spurious, unsubstantiated, and an attempt to gag an individual who has brought to attention information that is in the public interest’.
g) An assertion, not evidenced by way of an exhibit appended to his defence, that the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority is presently investigating JMW Solicitors over the conduct of the claim.
h) A standard assertion by Miah, when faced with any allegations of wrongdoing, is that such as this defamation claim is ‘a politically motivated action’. Presently on both police and court bail over malicious communication and harassment allegations respectively, he has made that identical claim in both those criminal investigations (read more here). Similarly, he denies any wrongdoing in those matters.
j) The defence to the claim, he says, ‘requires specialist legal representation which I have been unable to secure by this date [14th February, 2023] and I reserve the right to file an amended defence once I have secured the said specialist representation’.
k) An informal request is made to the court to strike out the ‘meritless, frivolous, ambiguous and spurious’ claim.
This defence statement does not, in any recognisable way, comply with CPR (or Practice Directions) which strictly govern all civil litigation: At CPR 16.5(1), a defendant must state which of the claimant’s allegations it admits, which allegations it denies, and which allegations it is unable to admit or deny but requires the claimant to prove.
A blanket denial, such as the defence filed and served in this claim, does not meet the CPR test as cogent reasons must be given against each and every part of the pleaded claim if it is denied.
Under CPR, there is no allowance made for a party who is a lay litigant.
What happens next?
At the very end of a Recusant Nine broadcast yesterday (Friday 11th March, 2023), Raja Miah told those of The Rabble listening in that he was off to meet his barrister to discuss Dr Chauhan’s defamation claim. The likely cost of such advice, he said, was £10,000 (a gross under-estimate if this matter proceeds to trial). Adding that, if he lost his home as a result of this claim succeeding and was found in a sleeping bag next to the Annie Kenney statue in Parliament Square in Oldham, ‘it will have all have been worth it’ to bring change to the Borough’s political make-up.
Two much more likely scenarios are that this claim will be compromised before reaching trial:
Firstly, on advice from Miah’s own barrister whom will, presumably, remind him of the difficulties posed in defending the claim as framed; where the burden of proof lies; and the proportionality of engaging in litigation that could end with a similar result to the last time Raja faced JMW Solicitors in a defamation claim: He was co-defendant alongside his close friend, political ally and Rabble member, Khazir Rehman (better known locally as ‘Kaiser’).
Concluded last month at the High Court in London, Kaiser has been ordered to pay £197,500 in costs and damages (read more here). Miah compromised that claim at an early stage with a public apology, removal of offending material and a payment in the claimant’s name to a local charity (read more here). To do so in the Dr Chauhan claim, at its present stage and on a benign view, is likely to cost him well in excess of £25,000 in costs alone.
A second scenario would be that JMW follow the well-established legal route of applying to the court for summary judgment and strike out of Raja Miah’s defence. Also taken, for example, by Prince Harry against the Mail on Sunday in the case referred to in the opening paragraphs of this article.
Indeed, convoluted though it was, that was the decisive action taken by JMW against Kaiser Rehman, whose defence was similarly defective and focused more on wider conspiracy theory, and matters irrelevant to the pleaded claim, rather than the particulars of the claim and proving the truth of what he had said (read more here).
Such an Application by JMW, with a likely hearing across two days at the Royal Courts of Justice later this year, would add around £20,000 in costs to the losing party.
Food for thought for a defendant already holding bills estimated to be in the region of £30,000 to defend just one of the two extant criminal actions against him. In his defence to Dr Chauhan’s claim he argues that the source of the claimant’s funding should be disclosed to the court (and thus, by default, Raja Miah and the public).
Perhaps he should adopt that same principle and reveal just who is funding his own criminal defence and civil litigation? Particularly in the light of the fact that he has been, on his own admission, unemployed since 2017, apart from a recent, short-lived spell as a Tandoori takeaway worker (read more here), and as recently as August, 2022 claimed, very publicly, he was living on an income of just £500 per month. Provided entirely, he says, by The Rabble’s subscriptions and donations (read more here).
Law360, who say they are preparing an article on the Chauhan v Miah defamation claim, approached the latter yesterday (Friday 10th March, 2023) for comment. Their reporter, the well respected and widely published Ronan Barnard, whom mostly reports from criminal trials heard at the Old Bailey in London, was publicly rebuffed on Recusant Nine with this statement:
“When will they learn? It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from. Do Not Fear Them. Do Not Fear Any Of Them”.
The Rabble’s senior trolls swung into action almost immediately, of course, smearing the journalist before a word of the article is written.
Which does rather suggest that Raja will, Kaiser Rehman-style, fight Dr Chauhan’s claim to its bitter end. With, more likely than not, on all the pleadings seen so far, the same disastrous outcome.
Indeed, very much in Kaiser mode, in an ’emergency transmission’ on his Recusant Nine YouTube channel on 21st March, 2023, Miah stated plainly: ‘Dr Chauhan, I’ll see you in court. You can sue me once, you can sue me twice. You can only take all I’ve got once. Come and get it’.
Page last updated Tuesday 21st March, 2023 at 2120hrs
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