a1 Barrister, Deputy Chancellor of the Dioceses of Chichester and Norwich
(Online publication August 11 2011)
In an application to stay libel proceedings, the defendants argued that the libel was non-justiciable as it required the court to deal with doctrinal and religious issues arising in the Sikh community. The alleged libel was published in articles in the Panjab Times stating that the claimant, a prominent member of the Sikh community, had abandoned Sikh principles and sought to foment violence and intimidation at Gurduwaras in Oldbury, Bradford and High Wycombe. The claimant's conduct was said to be in support of a Sikh leader whose legitimacy was being contested in the courts in India and within the UK Sikh community. The defendants argued that the matters raised in the articles were unavoidably doctrinal and therefore non-justiciable by a secular court. The claimant argued that the articles were libellous in relation to allegations of intimidation and near-violence and contained no doctrinal issues. He also argued that, alternatively, the libellous allegations could be severed from any matters of doctrine and tried separately on their merits. As to the substance of the case, the defendants pleaded justification and argued that the claimant had no genuine interest but was bringing proceedings to silence criticism. Following the earlier decision of Eady J in His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Sing Ji Maharaj v Eastern Media Group & Singh (2010) Ecc LJ 411 (concerning the same individual), which in turn relied on Gray J's previous ruling in Blake v Associated Newspapers  EWHC 1960 QB, a stay was granted on the basis that the court could not adjudicate on matters of religious doctrine. The issue of justification raised by way of defence could not properly be argued without reference to the doctrinal dispute at the heart of the dispute as to the leader's legitimacy. [Catherine Shelley] This case is reported at  EWHC 3610 QB.