Updated: Judgement on Smith v Baker: A long running dispute still unresolved

Royal Courts of Justice

Judge warns she will block senders who flooded her office with 50 emails before hearing

Some readers of this blog will know that until two years ago I did report in a number of blogs the allegations of Esther Baker against former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming. Since then a judge has ruled against Esther Baker’s allegations and banned her from making them again and I have had an agreed settlement with Mr Hemming not to mention them.

There has been a sequel to this story culminating in Mr Hemming’s friend, Sam Collingwood Smith and Esther Baker being involved in a protracted dispute in the courts over tweets and forums on the Internet. The case culminated ( so far) in a hearing on the media and communications list at the Royal Court of Justice.

Today a woman judge used her discretion to refuse Mr Smith’s application to strike out her case and told Esther Baker to re-present her claim to the court within a proper legal framework.

Neither litigant is represented by lawyers. The pleadings and annexes according to the judge ran to 293 pages which shows how comments on Twitter and blogs can escalate into an extraordinary expensive dispute if they ever get into the courts.

The judge also issued an unusual statement at the end of her judgement warning she would block the email accounts of senders if they continued to flood her office over the dispute.

She said : “In the 10 days leading up to the hearing, I received well over 50 emails on this matter, not all from the parties. Some were properly alerting me to documents or issues I needed to decide or consider. Many
were not. The majority of those were copied to my listing clerk had to consider them to see if there was anything she was required to do. I received a further 15 emails after the hearing and before handing down this judgment, again some of which were properly sent; others were not.”

She concluded: “If I continue to receive unnecessary emails I will block the sender and all correspondence will have to be done through the post, the court’s generic email or CE file.”

The full judgement is here-Smith v Baker [2020] EWHC 2776 (QB) (20 October 2020)

It is a long read. I will not comment but leave you to make up your mind. The ruling has absolute privilege.

Update

At a further hearing today (Tuesday November 3) the judge refused permission for Sam Collingwood Smith to appeal her decision at the last hearing and rejected his claims that Esther Baker had breached an undertaking in an earlier case.

She also said she did accept his argument that as Esther Baker had used the definition of truth to defend herself in the proceedings that her statement that he was a Mackenzie friend to former MP John Hemming was inaccurate – as she saw no material difference between being a Mackenzie friend and a lay adviser to Mr Hemming in the various cases Mr Hemming brought against people who wrote about or helped Esther Baker.

Mr Smith does have the right to go to the Court of Appeal to seek permission to challenge the judge’s rulings.

The judge awarded costs to Mr Smith against Esther Baker and also laid down a procedure giving Esther Baker until November 27 to re present her arguments and submission and Sam Smith until December 29 to reply, Esther Baker will have until January 27 to reply to his new submission.

A further hearing is expected next February.

6 thoughts on “Updated: Judgement on Smith v Baker: A long running dispute still unresolved

  1. David, this paragraph in your post is wrong:

    “Today a woman judge used her discretion to refuse Mr Smith’s application to strike out her case and told Esther Baker to re-present her claim to the court within a proper legal framework.”

    The claim for defamation and harassment was actually brought by Mr Smith. Esther Baker presented a defence against his claim which was deficient in important respects, together with an equally deficient counterclaim for defamation and harassment. Mr. Smith sought strike-out and summary judgment on Ms Baker’s defence and counterclaim, on three grounds: that the defendent had failed to follow court rules and practice in her defence, that even where she had followed rules and practice she had no chance of success, and that the counterclaim was a breach of process. Master Sullivan dismissed Mr Smith’s application for strike-out and summary judgment. However, she struck out parts of Ms Baker’s counterclaim, and told Ms Baker to revise both her defence and her counterclaim and re-present it to the court. Master Sullivan also required Mr Smith either to present a reply to Ms Baker’s revised defence and counterclaim or to renew his request that her revised defence and counterclaim be struck out.

    These are the relevant paragraphs in Master Sullivan’s judgment:

    “In conclusion, the application for summary judgment or to strike the claim and counterclaim out is dismissed save for the few items set out above in respect of paragraphs 14 of the defence and paragraphs 41, 52(vii), 64 and 65 of the counterclaim but the defendant is required to amend her defence and counterclaim to comply with the rules. I am not making an unless order for the reasons set out, but if there is any substantial breach in the amended pleadings, the relevant part is likely to be struck out.” (this last sentence is a warning to Ms Baker to get it right or risk having even more of her defence and counterclaim struck out)

    “I therefore intend to make an order requiring the defendant to amend her defence and counterclaim then for the claimant to either plead an amended reply and defence to counterclaim or to restore this application to strike out the pleading if he considers there is continued serious default. I am minded to order that each party has 28 days to take their respective steps but will arrange a short hearing to hear any submissions on future directions and other consequential orders.”

    In short, this was not a case by Ms Baker against Mr Smith as your blogpost implies, but a case by Mr Smith against Ms Baker in which both her defence and her counterclaim against him have been judged by Master Sullivan to be seriously deficient. Master Sullivan has simply given Ms Baker a second chance to present a coherent defence and counterclaim. The principal reason for this appears to be the fact that Ms Baker is not a lawyer and has no legal representation, so her breaches of process may be genuine mistakes. It is still possible, therefore, that Ms Baker’s defence and counterclaim could be struck out in the next hearing. If it is, then Mr Smith will win his case against her for defamation and harassment.

    You are wrong to suggest or imply that the judge’s gender had any bearing on her decision.

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    • I am rather surprised by your comments. This was an extremely short summary of the dispute which did not go into the details. The reference to the judge’s gender was for the uninitiated who might think Master refers to a man – nothing more, nothing less. But it is nice to know that you are spending your time reading judgements so you can find something to criticise. I have left people to read the judgement to mak up their own mind.

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      • I read the judgment because it was interesting, David. It did actually go into quite a bit of detail, though it fortunately spared us the gory details of the parties’ very long and very complicated submissions. I was amused by the exasperated tone of the judge’s remarks about those submissions.

        It is apparent from the judgment that Ms Baker hasn’t got a clue what she is doing and desperately needs legal representation. And Smith appears to be pursuing a personal vendetta. He knows this case will cost him a substantial amount of money, since Ms Baker’s bankruptcy means he won’t get costs even if he wins (this was in the judgment btw). Frankly I hope he loses. I don’t like the courts being used as a vehicle for petty vindictiveness.

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      • It seems that Esther Baker is going to get some professional legal assistance to prepare her case.
        Your comments about Smith are interesting since this is not the only case he is involved in taking action against other people.

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