Forensic News, its founder, Scott Stedman and others
STATUS: Concluded – On 1 March 2023, the Court of Appeals (Civil Division) rejected Soriano’s appeal and upheld the obtaining of evidence through a United States court for use in English civil proceedings. Ahead of a court hearing scheduled for 2 March 2023, it was confirmed that the case had been settled, with written statements being published on the Forensic News website, as well as the Twitter accounts of Scott Stedman and the other involved journalists. The seven articles and one podcast episode that formed the basis of the SLAPP have been taken down and will no longer be publicly available.
Forensic News, an investigative news website, its founder Scott Stedman and several of its journalists, all based in the United States, have been subject to legal action in the UK brought by British-Israeli security consultant and businessman Walter Soriano since July 2020. Soriano made five claims in relation to data protection, libel, misuse of private information, harassment, and malicious falsehoods, relating to ten internet publications and various social media postings published between June 2019 and June 2020.
Forensic News started writing about Soriano after he was summoned by the US Senate Intelligence Committee, which was reportedly interested in Soriano’s connections to several people of interest. This included the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a former business associate of Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In evidence given to the US Congress in April 2022, Stedman noted that US based lawyers for Mr Deripaska initially wrote to him and threatened legal action while also demanding that Stedman provide information about his sources. However, legal action against Stedman and Forensic News, based in California, where strong anti-SLAPP legislation is in place, never materialised.
In January 2021, a preliminary ruling on jurisdiction in the UK dismissed the GDPR, harassment and malicious falsehood claims, but allowed Soriano to proceed with his libel claim and privacy claim (although this latter claim only pending the success of a libel claim). In December 2021, in what is believed to be the first appellate decision on the territorial reach of the UK GDPR, the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier ruling and gave Soriano permission to bring a data protection claim. The court held that subscriptions to the news site, facilitated through the Patreon platform – paid in sterling or euros – amounted to ‘stable arrangements’ to satisfy article 3(1) of the GDPR. According to court documents, since opening up its Patreon subscriptions from USD only in August 2020, Forensic News had received 3 Patreon subscriptions in EUR and 3 in GBP.
As a result of losing the December 2021 appeal, Forensic News owes Soriano ‘tens of thousands’ in costs. As Stedman explained in his testimony to Congress: “For over a year, we contested the jurisdiction of the lawsuit. I have never stepped foot in the United Kingdom. Forensic News has no corporate presence in the UK and the vast majority of my readers are in the US”. Yet there is an expectation that the defendants should pay the claimant for losing this appeal, before even reaching a trial. Currently, the cases are only continuing against the outlet, Stedman and one of his colleagues, with the other contributors having decided to settle. Mr Soriano has denied all wrongdoing alleged against him.The next hearing is expected on 2nd-3rd March 2023.
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