Lawyers for former newspaper publisher Conrad Black, serving the final days of his sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice in a Miami jail, say he was “delighted” at word of his legal victory before Canada’s Supreme Court.
But the judgment released on Wednesday won’t see his May 5 release date moved up. The short decision in Lord Black’s case came alongside a group of highly anticipated rulings meant to clarify the jurisdiction of Canadian civil courts over foreigners.
The Supreme Court ruled that Lord Black was within his rights when he filed libel suits in Ontario in 2004 and 2005 against a group of mostly American former directors, officers and advisers of Hollinger International Inc. after they publicized allegations against him on the company’s U.S. website that would later lead to his 2007 trial in Chicago.
The victory is academic. Lord Black has already agreed to settle the lawsuits, which targeted high-profile Hollinger advisers or directors such as former U.S. Securities and Exchange head Richard Breeden and former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
In a statement, Lord Black’s lawyers said that once courts in Delaware and Ontario approve the confidential settlements, the matter will be closed, despite Wednesday’s win.
One of his Toronto lawyers, Lisa Munro of Lerners LLP, noted that the court’s decision sidesteps the difficult question of whether the mere posting of a defamatory statement on a foreign website is actionable here. In the Black case, the fact that newspapers in Ontario also republished the allegations was instrumental in the decision.
It was the court’s other decisions on questions of jurisdiction that had legal observers talking. In the central case released on Wednesday, the court was asked to decide whether a Canadian woman, Morgan van Breda, who was paralyzed after a 2003 accident at a Cuban resort, could sue the foreign-based resort manager in Ontario.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ruled that she could sue. And the Supreme Court issued a refined list of factors for lower courts facing skirmishes over whether they have jurisdiction over foreign defendants. Up to now, different standards have been applied in different provinces.
The justices list four “presumptive connecting factors” that allow Canadian courts to assume jurisdiction over foreign defendants: If the defendant lives in the province in question, carries on business there, commits the alleged “tort” or offence there, or signs a contract there. But the decision still allows courts to consider other factors.
Both lawyers who act for foreign companies that do business in Canada and class-action lawyers who launch cases against them have been watching the van Breda case closely. Several cases involving fights with foreign defendants over jurisdiction were put on hold awaiting Wednesday’s ruling.