Global Freedom of Expression

Cheshire West and Chester Council and others v. Pickthall

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    July 23, 2015
  • Outcome
    Provisional Measures/ Precautionary Measures for those who exercise FoE, Injunction or Order Granted
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    United Kingdom, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Defamation / Reputation, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Public Officials

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In this case, an interim injunction was granted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the “PHA”) to restrain the defendant, Robert Pickthall, from publishing allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the claimant Cheshire West and Chester Council and individuals associated with it.



In this case, the defendant was renting private accommodation and became involved in a dispute with his landlord. He then contacted the claimant Council and, according to the claimants, the defendant proceeded to become a “vexatious complainant” and “engaged upon a long and persistent campaign against the Council and its officers, employees and Councillors” from first contact in 2010 to the present day. The defendant’s campaign consisted of two phases and included voluminous email correspondence ranging in the thousands, contacting the police to pursue the Council for alleged criminal activity, threatening to distribute leaflets disparaging the Council, and setting up a website containing strong allegations of fraud, corruption and unlawful interception of private and confidential correspondence.

The claimants sought an interim injunction under the 1997 Prevention of Harassment Act (PHA) on the grounds that the defendant’s activities constituted a course of conduct amounting to harassment.  The defendant raised the defence in section 1(3) of the PHA, in particular section 1(3)(a), which provides that a course of conduct “pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime” will not be considered harassment.  In the 2013 case of Hayes v Willoughby  the Supreme Court had held that in order for this defence to apply, the course of conduct used had to be rationally connected with the purpose of preventing or detecting crime.

Decision Overview

Mr. Justice Edis delivered the judgment in this case. He noted that because relief sought was an interim injunction order, the defendant’s right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) was necessarily implicated .  Article 12(3) of the HRA provides that no injunction affecting the right to freedom of expression should be granted “before trial unless the court is satisfied that the applicant is likely to establish that publication should not be allowed”.  Judge Edis refered to the Cream Holdings Ltd v. Banerjee case in which the House of Lords interpreted of the term “likely” and held that all that was necessary was to show that the defendant is likely to fail to establish one of the statutory defences.

In this case, the only viable defence was the one contained in section 1(3)(a). After reviewing the evidence and considering the Hayes decision, the judge held that the defendant’s vendetta against the individuals employed by the Council was irrational and his persistence was obsessive. It was held that there was no logical connection between his suggested purpose of crime prevention and his acts and that, therefore, the defendant had no real prospect of establishing that his campaign of harassment was justified.

The Judge therefore granted an injunction but the judge also stated that if the defendant were to become aware of other material he wished to publish and he believed that he should be permitted to do so, he could apply to vary the order. However, such an application had to be done on notice and supported by evidence with a Statement of Truth.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

In this case, an injunction was granted that restricted the defendant’s freedom of expression. However, the Court was congnizant of the restriction on his freedom of speech as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention and section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and made sure that the restriction was proportionate. The Court emphasized that no speech had been “suppressed” by the order.  This case can be considered an expansion of expression as it shows a balance being struck between freedom of expression and protection from harassment in an interim context.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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