Cllr. Anna Mbachu seeks permission to appeal her recent libel trouncing, but is refused, meaning she’s on the hook for £34,000

As previously reported here, Cllr. Anna Mbachu recently lost a libel action she had brought at the High Court, and in spectacular fashion, too, so leaving her with a £34,000 bill.

Subsequently, she decided to seek permission for an appeal, and on the 29 March just past the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Welby of the Court of Appeal, Civil Division, gave his verdict.

It is fair to say that he was less than impressed by what was put in front of him. 

He began by noting that Cllr. Mbachu’s case had been ‘conducted in a disorderly and highly unsatisfactory fashion from the outset’, and went on to enumerate its ‘many flaws’.

To give one example, the core allegation that Cllr. Mbachu made was that, in posts on social media, an ex-colleague had called her a ‘liar’, a ‘vile deceptive pig’, and someone who ‘undertakes violence’ online, and about that the Rt. Hon Lord Justice Welby remarked as follows:

‘There was no reason why the claimant could not in principle have established her pleaded case in respect of the…defamatory publications. The difficulty here was evidential. The claimant did not see or if she did she did not take copies of the social media posts complained of at the time of their publication in 2018. Her case is that she learned of them from others. So she was reliant on documents, information and evidence from third parties. In the nature of things she needed to act swiftly to assemble that material by obtaining copies of the original messages and/or statements or proofs of evidence to show what they said and where they were posted. She then needed to marshal her documentary and witness evidence and plead a case that complied with the rules and could be established by that evidence. She or those advising her failed to do this. Ultimately, the documents produced by the claimant were incapable of discharging the burden of proof’.

Moreover, he added, ‘The witness statements served on her behalf…could not have established that which the documents failed to show’.

Given such a damning assessment, Rt. Hon Lord Justice Welby determined that ‘the conclusion the [original High Court] Judge arrived at was a proper one, and the contrary is not arguable’, and consequently refused Cllr. Mbachu permission to appeal on the grounds that it would have ‘no realistic prospect of success’.

Whether this debacle damages Cllr. Mbachu’s reputation, and calls into question her fitness for public office, is an open question.

Her friends may be tempted to argue that the only person who Cllr. Mbachu has really harmed is herself; that libel is a difficult area of the law, hard to negotiate, and sometimes unpredictable in its outcomes; and that anyway this is really a private matter, and nothing to do with Cllr. Mbachu’s activities in the Town Hall.

However, none of these arguments are very convincing. Cllr. Mbachu has certainly ended up with a substantial bill. But the person she wrongly claimed had libelled her suffered much worse, subject to years of anxiety over what are now revealed to be spurious charges. Little wonder that after the trial he was quoted by the Waltham Forest Echo as lamenting: ‘“I’m just flabbergasted, I’ve had to travel from the USA for this case, which has been dragging on since 2018. I’ve had to spend so much money on this case”’.

Regarding the libel law, that does, no doubt, present its challenges, but Cllr. Mbachu lost her case not because of complicated legal technicalities, but because, despite the clear instructions issued by the trial judge, she failed to respect the most elementary principles of collating and presenting evidence. 

That she then plunged on and sought an appeal suggests – to put it kindly – either that she was badly advised, or that she allowed her emotions to get the better of her, or that she was undone by hubris.

Finally, though the supposition about this being a private matter in a strict sense is indisputably true, adding perspective tells a rather different story.

For only modest research quickly reveals that Cllr. Mbachu (a) spends a great deal of time pursuing issues to do with the Nigerian diaspora, and indeed currently is engaged in a bitter dispute about the administration of one of its representative organisations; and (b), when trying to gain the support of her fellow Nigerians, often underlines the considerable kudos which she believes (perhaps idiosyncratically) stems from being a Waltham Forest councillor and ex-mayor.

Moreover, it is also relevant that Cllr. Mbachu presents herself as a role model, someone who is paving the way not just for Nigerians, but also, as she told an interviewer, for ‘other ethnic minorities in the UK’.

And when all of this is taken into account, it becomes apparent that her private and public actions have become intertwined rather than remaining hermetically sealed. 

In short, her antics in the courts cannot easily be divorced from her various political activities.

Turning to the future, what this latest episode means for Cllr. Mbachu’s prospects remains to be seen. The majority faction in the Labour Party clearly values her for her loyalty, as demonstrated by the fact that, over the years, though de-selected as a local election candidate twice, on each occasion she has been reinstated.  

But add a couple more blunders to the already unpalatable list (see links, below) and opinions may change. 

After all, she’s in a fickle business.

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