December 23 2022

Craig Wright v Peter McCormack – Serious Consequences

Thomson Heath Jenkins & Associates
Thomson Heath Jenkins & Associates

On 21 December 2022, Mr Justice Chamberlain handed down a judgment in Dr Craig Wright v Peter McCormack [2022] EWHC 3343 (KB) dealing with consequential matters following his earlier decision and judgment on 1 August 2022 ([2022] EWHC 2068 (QB)), which followed a 3 day trial between 23-25th May 2022.

In August 2022, Craig Wright was awarded nominal damages of £1 when Mr Justice Chamberlain found he had been defamed in tweets by Peter McCormack. The award reflected what the Judge described as Wright’s ‘deliberately false case’ in relation to the issue of serious harm caused by the tweets.

Prior to the approved official judgment being handed down by the Judge on 1 August 2022, it appears that messages posted by Craig Wright on social media could have be taken as disclosing the result in breach of embargo rules. This was despite the fact that Mr Wright had not disclosed the full draft judgment itself. At the consequential hearing, which took place on 20 December 2022, Mr Justice Chamberlain was subsequently faced with four key questions:

  1. What action should he take, if any, in relation to the alleged breach of the embargo on his earlier draft judgment from August?
  2. What injunctive relief, if any, should he grant to prevent Mr McCormack from repeating the statements giving rise to the claim?
  3. Should Dr Wright have permission to appeal against his decision to award him only nominal damages? and
  4. Which party should be responsible for costs?

The Judge began by reiterating that his judgment was the latest example of the Courts being faced with alleged breaches of embargos placed on draft judgments. At Paragraph [5] of his judgment, the Judge also drew attention to findings made by other Judges in separate pieces of litigation which involved Craig Wright:

[5] As I noted in my judgment, this was not the first occasion on which Dr Wright’s evidence to a court has been found to be unreliable. I set out at [87]-[88] of my judgment some excerpts from the decisions of two United States federal judges, who came to the same conclusion. Since I gave judgment, my attention has been drawn to the observations of Butcher J, sitting in the Commercial Court in this jurisdiction, who found Dr Wright to be an unsatisfactory witness in many respects: Ang v Relantco Investments [2020] EWHC 3242 (Comm), at [49]. Subsequently, in proceedings between Dr Wright and Magnus Granath, District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen of the Oslo District Court in Norway held on 20 October 2022 that Mr Granath had “ample factual basis to claim that Wright had lied and cheated in his attempt to prove that he is Satoshi Nakamoto”.

Chamberlain J was not satisfied with the Claimant’s explanation regarding the social media messages and has referred Craig Wright for contempt proceedings:

[24] Against that background, I am unable to accept without further investigation Dr Wright’s explanation, as reported by Ontier, that the purpose of his posts on 26 July 2022 (hours after being informed of the substance of the judgment), was “not to give any indication as to the outcome set out in the Draft Judgment”, but merely to “encourage debate”. I consider that there is a real prospect that a court might find that, by posting those messages, Dr Wright was disclosing, and intending to disclose, the substance of the judgment contrary to the clear terms of the embargo, which had been explained to him. The emails referred to at paragraphs 33-44 of Ontier’s report appear to be a further breach of the embargo by Dr Wright, which may amount to a further contempt of court, depending on the view the court takes as to his state of mind when he forwarded the relevant emails.

In relation to costs, and given Mr Justice Chamberlain’s findings concerning the advancement of a ‘deliberately false case’, Craig Wright accepted that he should pay the Defendant’s costs on the indemnity basis, save as to two earlier orders made in the proceedings. Chamberlain J agreed:

 [56] Such an order is justified. A litigant who advances a fundamentally dishonest case on an essential element of his claim should expect to pay the other side’s costs on the indemnity basis. If I were in any doubt about this (which I am not), I bear in mind the evidence that Dr Wright seems to have intended to use the costs of this litigation as a means of preventing others from denying that he is Satoshi. In this regard, I bear in mind in particular:

(a) Master Davison’s observation in March 2020 that Dr Wright’s cost budget was “the biggest budget that I have ever seen personally in any category of work” and “certainly hugely in excess of any budget that I have seen in a defamation case”;

(b) Dr Wright’s messages on the Slack messaging platform, to which I have referred earlier: see para. 11 above. See, in particular, his reference to “crushing” his enemies, by bankrupting them.

(c) Mr Ayre’s tweet of 13 April 2019 (posted shortly after he had tweeted a photograph of himself, Dr Wright, Dr Wright’s then-leading counsel and others at a “troll hunting meeting”): “judge only needs one troll to pass judgement… no need to sue everyone… just waiting for a volunteer to bankrupt themselves trying to prove a negative and then letting Craig show the proof. Who will be this moron?”

[57] Litigants should be in no doubt that the courts of this jurisdiction will not allow their costs rules to be used for tactical purposes of this kind

Following submissions by both parties, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that:

  1. The social media messages need to be investigated and consequently he would issue a summons requiring Dr Wright to attend a directions hearing before a Judge nominated by the Judge in Charge of the Media and Communications List, who will give directions for the conduct of contempt proceedings in respect of alleged breach of the embargo.
  2. He would not accept the undertaking offered by Mr McCormack or grant any injunctive relief against Mr McCormack.
  3. He refused permission to appeal against the decision to award only nominal damages.
  4. Dr Wright must pay all of Mr McCormack’s costs of the proceedings, including the interlocutory applications in respect of which costs were reserved to me, on the indemnity basis, except for costs orders made by Master Dagnall and Knowles Orders is refused.

As to the question of who is Satoshi Nakamoto, Chamberlain J left the answer for another day – [3] “It is important to be clear that Dr Wright has not established that he is Satoshi.”

Links to the judgments can be found here: