Caven Vines, leader of the UKIP group on Rotherham Council, was sued by two Labour MPs, Sir Kevin Barron, who has held the Rother Valley seat since 1983, and John Healey, who has represented Wentworth and Deane since 1997, over comments he made about the borough’s child sexual exploitation scandal during an interview on Sky News in January 2015.
The two MPs claimed that his remarks meant and were understood to mean that they “knew of child sexual exploitation involving 1,400 children in Rotherham over 16 years but despite knowing this they let the sexual abuse of the children go on and are now failing to ensure that the perpetrators are arrested and brought to justice”.
The MPs applied for a ruling on the meaning of the words of which they complained, and for summary judgment on the grounds that Mr Vines had put forward nothing which could conceivably amount to a defence to the claim.
Mr Justice Warby said in a decision in April 2015 ( EWHC 1161 (QB)) that he had concluded that the words complained of bore a defamatory meaning about each claimant which was substantially similar to the meaning complained of by them, and which Mr Vines could not
defend as true.
Although the judge considered that Mr Vines, who was not represented, did not have a tenable public interest defence under section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013, he gave him a final pportunity to take professional advice on the issue.
Mr Vines declined that opportunity and summary judgment was granted against him.
In an application heard on 16 February 2016, Mr Vines sought to set aside that judgment, arguing that circumstances had changed – he had been able to afford legal advice which was to the effect that he had a defence under section 4 with a real prospect of success on the basis that information had come to light showing that he could reasonably have believed that it was in the public interest to make the statement complained of.
But Sir David Eady, sitting as a High Court Judge, rejected the application, the legal information service Lawtel reported.
While it was not clear whether Mr Vines was applying to set aside the previous judgment or for permission to appeal out of time, his application failed on either basis, Lawtel reported Sir David as saying.
Mr Justice Warby was concerned that Mr Vines was a litigant in person and before granting summary judgment gave him an opportunity to explore the possibility of obtaining legal advice, Sir David said.
The judge had considered the points that could be taken by Mr Vines, and which he sought to pursue, but they did not give rise to a tenable defence even though they might be relevant to the mitigation of any damages.
If Mr Vines was applying to set aside the judgment under CPR Rule 3.1(7) then he had to show either that the decision was erroneous and based on some kind of mistake or that the basis of the order was subsequently substantially undermined, Roult v North West SHA ( EWCA Civ 444,  1 WLR 487) and Tibbles v SIG Plc (t/a Asphaltic Roofing Supplies) ( EWCA Civ 518,  1 WLR 2591) followed.
Mr Vines could not bring himself within either of those limbs of the rule, Sir David held.
There was also a public interest in the finality of litigation – 10 months had passed since the decision and the assessment of damages was only days away.
If the application was for permission to appeal, there was no relevant change of circumstances – the evidence relied on as new was available previously, and there was no error by the judge, and any application was bound to be rejected, Sir David held.
This report originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.