Sikh holy man wins right to libel action appeal

An Indian holy man who tried to sue a journalist which said he was an impostor has been granted the right to appeal an earlier decision to strike out his libel claim.

Sitting at the Court of Appeal today Lady Justice Smith approved an oral application to renew the appeal on behalf of His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj.

The holy man – who heads the Nirmal Kutia Johal religious order – originally had his attempt to sue journalist Hardeep Singh struck out at the High Court in May.

The action came over an article Singh wrote for The Sikh Times in August 2007 in which alleged – the libel claim suggested – the holy man was the leader of a cult and an impostor who had disturbed the peace in the Sikh community of High Wycombe and promoted blasphemy and the sexual exploitation and abuse of women.

Justice Eady originally struck out the case after accepting submissions on behalf of Singh that the courts could not deal with the matter because of the an established principle that court will not attempt to rule on doctrinal issues or intervene in the regulation of governance of religious groups.

Eady said it would appear that issues of a religious or doctrinal nature permeated the pleadings in the case.

He was, he said, “driven to the conclusion” that the issues in the case could not be adapted so as to get round the insuperable obstacle that the court had to refrain from determining issues which were at the heart of the case.

In July, Lord Justice Laws then rejected an application for permission to appeal, holding that Justice Eady’s decision was correct for the reasons he had given, however lawyers representing the claimant decided to seek renewal of the application with an oral hearing at the Court of Appeal.

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