ONTIER LLP Secures Pre-Trial Victory for Bitcoin’s Creator in Defamation Action

In a significant victory for ONTIER client, Dr Craig Wright, the High Court has today handed down its long-awaited judgment on the Pre-Trial Review of Dr Wright’s ongoing defamation claim against podcaster Peter McCormack.

In Dr Craig Wright v Peter McCormack [2021] EWHC 2671 (QB), the Court was asked to determine a number of applications and cross-applications brought by the parties.  The Pre-Trial Review was ordered by the Court in February following various conflicting changes of position by the Defendant and in order to bring finality to the Defendant’s pleaded case and the evidence which should be admitted at trial.

The proceedings relate to 14 tweets and 1 YouTube video which the Defendant published between March and October 2019 accusing Dr Wright of fraudulently claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin. 

The Defendant had sought to defend the action on the basis of truth, public interest and abuse of process.  In October 2020, shortly after the parties exchanged their respective disclosure, the Defendant abandoned his defence of the proceedings.  He subsequently changed his mind and, in December 2020, sought to resurrect those parts of his Defence which challenged Dr Wright’s claim to have suffered serious harm.

The Defendant sought to re-amend his Amended Defence by introducing those parts of his pleaded (and abandoned) truth defence into play in his defence of serious harm.  He also sought permission to adduce and rely on a further witness statement and previously undisclosed documents – totaling in excess of 1,000 pages, which largely comprised of various third-party publications from 2015 and 2016 which purportedly made similar allegations about Dr Wright as the Defendant had made in the publications complained of.

Simon Cohen of ONTIER LLP said: 

“This judgment represents a comprehensive victory for Dr Wright. The long-running dispute has endured various attempts by the defendant to change course but finally, the Court has found McCormack’s draft re-amended defence amounted to a reverse innuendo plea, meaning he was trying to introduce pleadings into his serious harm defence that he had already withdrawn from his truth defence. 

“According to the Court, these specific passages were also an improper attempt at circumventing the rule in Dingle v Associated Newspapers, which does not allow for reliance on other publications to mitigate the offensive nature of your own publication.  We now look forward to trial where Dr Wright will prove the serious harm caused to him by McCormack’s publications.”

The Court also granted Dr Wright’s various applications to amend the Claim Form.

With the Pre-Trial Review concluded, the action can now proceed to trial.  Given the greatly reduced scope of the Defendant’s Defence – which is now limited to the sole issue of serious harm, the trial is now expected to last around three days.

The judgment clarifies the rule in Dingle and also provides helpful guidance as to the circumstances in which the Court may disapply the limitation period under section 4A of the Limitation Act 1980.

Dr Wright was represented by Paul FergusonSimon CohenSara Saleh and Joe Woodward of ONTIER LLP, Adam Wolanski QCGreg Callus and Lily Walker-Parr of 5RB Chambers.

ENDS

A copy of the full judgment is available on request

For further information, please contact:

Bell Yard Communications                        +44 (0)20 7936 2021   BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                               +44 (0)7775 591244   melanie@bell-yard.com

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