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SERAFIN WINS IN LIBEL APPEAL
2019.11.08 /
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In May 2019 Jan Serafin won an appeal and damages over a defamatory Nowy Czas article written by Editor-in-Chief Grzegorz Malkiewicz. The Court of Appeal unanimously found in favour of Mr Serafin after a hearing in May at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Nowy Czas was ordered by the Court of Appeal to publish a summary of its judgment, which is set out below.
An article entitled "Bankruptcy need not be painful" was published in Nowy Czas in October 2014. It made serious allegations about Jan Serafin's charitable work at the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK), allegations concerning his dealings with his food import business, Polfood, and allegations about his work for Kolbe House.

Mr Serafin took those responsible for the libel to court: Grzegorz Malkiewicz (the editor-in-chief of Nowy Czas), Czas Publishers Limited (the company that published the newspaper) and Teresa Bazarnik-Malkiewicz (the director of the company). All accepted responsibility for the article, but defended it as being in the 'public interest' and true.

An article entitled "Bankruptcy need not be painful" was published in Nowy Czas in October 2014. It made serious allegations about Jan Serafin's charitable work at the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK), allegations concerning his dealings with his food import business, Polfood, and allegations about his work for Kolbe House.

Mr Serafin took those responsible for the libel to court: Grzegorz Malkiewicz (the editor-in-chief of Nowy Czas), Czas Publishers Limited (the company that published the newspaper) and Teresa Bazarnik-Malkiewicz (the director of the company). All accepted responsibility for the article, but defended it as being in the 'public interest' and true.

The judge, Mr Justice Jay heard the trial over a week in the High Court in 2017. Mr Justice Jay ruled in favour of the Defendants. He found that some of the allegations were true and that the whole article could be defended as it was in the public interest.

Mr Serafin appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal found for Mr Serafin on all of the central grounds of his appeal.

Not public interest journalism

The Court of Appeal held that, contrary to the finding of the Judge, the article was not on a matter of public interest. It was about Mr Serafin personally.

The Court held that the Nowy Czas had failed to comply with the basic requirement "of fairness and responsible journalism", that is, the requirement to allow the person who the story is about to put his side of the story. This would have been the "natural and obvious step" if the article had been about the management of the charities. The article was not concerned about the charities in question, but was rather a character assassination of Mr Serafin. The Defendants' reasons for not contacting Mr Serafin before publishing the article had "little substance".

The magazine had also failed to make any attempt to contact anyone else who could have put Mr Serafin's side, such as people who worked at POSK in an official capacity, or the management of Kolbe House.


In summary, the Court of Appeal held that the steps to verify the information were simply inadequate. The Court of Appeal's unambiguous summary: the Defendants' standard of journalism "plainly left much to be desired". After a lengthy and critical analysis of the Defendants' journalistic shortcomings, the Court held that the Judge's finding that this was public interest journalism was "unsustainable".

Allegation of theft from POSK "unsustainable"

The Court found that the allegation that Mr Serafin had stolen from the POSK Jazz Club bar takings made in the article was "unsustainable".

The only evidence supporting this allegation came from paramours Waldermar Wegrzynowski and Renata Cyparska. There was much to undermine the reliability of their evidence. They gave evidence that not only "bore a remarkable similarity" to one another's, and the Court found they were not independent witnesses (due to their long term relationship). Further, they had a "major business dispute" with Mr Serafin, and therefore "had a serious axe to grind".

Conversely, there was strong evidence militating against the truth of the theft allegation. Mr Serafin volunteered at the Jazz Bar and there was no evidence that any money had gone missing. Both Maria Stenzel, the bookkeeper at POSK at the relevant time, and Dr Leszek Bojanowski, a member of the executive committee, gave evidence that there was no evidence of any theft or of any money going missing. Dr Bojanowski regarded Mr Serafin as an honest man.

Exonerating Mr Serafin of the ill-founded slur, the Court held that the allegation that he had stolen from the Jazz Club was "unsustainable" and "not one that he was properly entitled to reach on the evidence before him."

Damages time

In the light of the allegation of stealing from the Jazz Club not being true, the Court held that Mr Serafin is entitled to proper vindication and compensatory damages in respect of the false allegations.

Unfair judicial treatment

The Court of Appeal also concluded that the trial presided over by Mr Justice Jay had been fundamentally unfair to Jan Serafin. Mr Serafin had appeared without representation at the trial. The judge should have been especially conscious to ensure that the dictates of fairness were observed, and seen to be observed, and that due allowance was made for language and other difficulties.

Instead, at the trial, Jay had "seriously transgressed" in failing to remain neutral and acting with hostility to Mr Serafin and had been "manifestly unfair and hostile" to Mr Serafin.

The Court of Appeal set out a fourteen-point annex in their judgment of examples of the unfair behaviour of Jay during the trial. Reading the transcripts left a "regrettable impression" and Jay J had acted in a manner that was "threatening, overbearing, and frankly, bullying".

Order following judgment

Following the Court of Appeal's judgment, the Court ordered that there should be a further hearing to assess the damages due to Mr Serafin from the defendants. The Court also ordered that the defendants pay the costs of the appeal to Mr Serafin, and repay all monies already paid by him to them.


The Court also ordered that the publication of a summary of the Court's judgment. The defendants' application to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused.

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