Blow to MRC in defamation lawsuit against six activists
JOHANNESBURG - AUSTRALIA's Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) suffered a severe blow yesterday as the Western Cape High Court ruled that its defamation lawsuits against six environmental activists was an abuse of the legal process.
Western Cape deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath said in her judgment that it was trite that the legal process was abused when it was used for a purpose other than that for what it has been intended or designed for.
“Corporations should not be allowed to weaponise our legal system against the ordinary citizen and activists in order to intimidate and silence them. It appears that the defamation suit is not genuine and bona fide, but merely a pretext with the only purpose to silence its opponents and critics,” Goliath said.
MRC, its director and chairperson, Mark Victor Caruso, sued activists John Gerard Ingram Clarke, Mzamo Dlamini, Cormac Cullinan and environmental attorneys Tracey Davies, Christine Reddell and Davine Cloete for R14.25 million for alleged defamatory remarks about its mining activities.
MRC and Caruso also sued alternatively the publication of apologies. The activists, however, argued that MRC brought a strategic lawsuit against public participation (Slapp) lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with legal costs.
MRC is involved in the exploration and development of the Tormin Mineral Sands Project on the West Coast and the Xolobeni Mineral Sands Project on the Wild Coast.
Caruso sought R10m from Clarke whose e-books titled The Promise of Justice and Survivor: Wild Coast – Before and Beyond the Shore Break were allegedly defamatory.
The books criticised the MRC's mining and excavating activities, as well as its environmental, ecological and economic impact on the development potential of the Wild Coast. Clarke also had several radio interviews, posted video clips on YouTube, and had a number of interviews published on various social media platforms online on the project.
Curuso and MRC sought a joint R3m after Dlamini and Cullinan allegedly conducted defamatory radio interviews in 2016 expressing criticism against the company's mining activities. They also wanted R1.2m from Redell, Davies and Cloete for presenting a lecture series titled “Mining the Wild and West Coast: ‘Development' at what cost?” in January 2017, in which the company's mining operations were criticised.
Goliath said the litigation that was part of a broad and purposeful strategy to intimidate, distract and silence public criticism, constituted an improper use of the judicial process and is vexatious and not aimed at vindicating legitimate rights.
“The improper use and abuse of the judicial process interferes with due administration of justice and undermines fundamental notions of justice and the integrity of our judicial process,” Goliath said.
“Slapp suits constitute an abuse of process, and are inconsistent with our constitutional values and scheme.” She said the right to freedom of expression, robust public debate and the ability to participate in public debates without fear was essential in any democratic society.
“I am accordingly satisfied that this action matches the DNA of a Slapp suit,” said Goliath.