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Sobrinho v Impresa Publishing SA [2016] EWHC 66

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 29/07/2023 01:22

Judgement for the case Sobrinho v Impresa Publishing SA

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  • The serious harm test necessitates the claimant to provide factual evidence, based on the balance of probabilities, that the statement in question has caused or is likely to cause significant damage to the claimant's reputation. Mere emotional distress or hurt feelings alone do not meet the required standard.
  • The claimant has the option to present evidence to support the claim of serious harm, while the defendant may offer evidence to demonstrate that no serious harm has taken place or is anticipated. Nevertheless, the court, like in all cases, has the right to draw conclusions based on the evidence admitted.
  • In situations where highly defamatory allegations are published in mass media, the requirement for evidence of serious harm may be obviated. However, it is essential to note that the issue of serious harm is not solely determined by the volume of publications or the number of people affected; it involves a careful assessment of the overall impact on the claimant's reputation.


  • This is a libel claim brought by Alvaro Sobrinho against Impresa Publishing SA, the publisher of the weekly newspaper "Expresso" in Portugal. The article in question made allegations against Mr. Sobrinho, a prominent international banker. Mr. Sobrinho brought libel proceedings in England, seeking a retraction and apology for the defamatory content.
  • After some pre-action correspondence, Mr. Sobrinho commenced libel proceedings in England, while a criminal complaint for libel was lodged in Portugal. However, due to the collapse of Banco Espirito Santo (BES), where Mr. Sobrinho was formerly employed, and extensive media coverage of the parliamentary inquiry into the bank's collapse, Mr. Sobrinho decided to discontinue the civil proceedings in Portugal.
  • Mr. Sobrinho argued that the extensive coverage of the parliamentary inquiry in Portugal clarified the situation and vindicated him, leading to the discontinuation of the libel proceedings in that jurisdiction. The libel claim in England focused on the publication of the article in the "Expresso" newspaper and its impact on Mr. Sobrinho’s reputation.
  • The court has to determine the extent to which damages were sought for the publication in England in the context of the broader events in Portugal.


  • The court's interpretation of the serious harm requirement offers valuable guidance for future defamation cases, emphasising the need for concrete evidence of significant damage to the claimant's reputation.
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