June 27, 2017
No preliminary issue on serious harm
Warby J rejects application for early trial in Brown v Bower
Warby J has refused an application for the issue of serious harm to be tried by way of preliminary issue in Nick Brown MP’s libel claim against Tom Bower and Faber & Faber.
Mr Brown is suing over a passage in Mr Bower’s biography of Tony Blair “Broken Vows – Tony Blair, the Tragedy of Power”.
The Defendants disputed that the words complained of were defamatory at common law and contended that even if they were, no serious harm had been caused to Mr Brown’s reputation. They applied for that issue to be determined as a preliminary issue.
The Defendants had declined to state whether they intended to rely on any substantive defence until the evening before the hearing, and then only doing so in language described by the Judge as “very guarded, and hedged around with qualifications”.
In those circumstances the Judge held that a preliminary trial “would be more likely to complicate, delay, and waste resources than to simplify, expedite and economise.”
This case may represent a shift away from the trend for serious harm to be tried as a preliminary issue, following the adoption of that course in Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd  EWHC 2242 (QB).
A 5RB case report can be found here.