Full case report

Charman v Orion Publishing Group & others

Reference 17/06/2005
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Gray J

Date of Judgment 17 Jun 2005


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Case Management Conference – Mode of Trial – Application for trial by Judge alone – s.69 Supreme Court Act 1981 – Application for meaning to be tried as a preliminary issue.


Facts

The Claimant was a police officer in the Metropolitan Police. He sought damages for libel in respect of allegations made in both the hardback and paperback versions of a book entitled, Bent Coppers. The Claimant contended that the words meant that he was guilty of being a corrupt police officer. The Defendants accepted that the words were defamatory but disputed the Claimant’s meaning, contending that the words meant that there were reasonable grounds to suspect and/or investigate the Claimant. Substantive defences of justification, Reynolds qualified privilege and statutory qualified privilege were relied upon. The Claimant applied for trial by judge alone and for meaning to be tried as a preliminary issue.


Issue

(1) Whether there should be trial by judge alone; and
(2) Whether meaning should be tried as a preliminary issue.


Held

(1) The case was suitable for trial by judge alone because of the substantial amount of documentation: Aitken v Preston [1997] EMLR 417 applied.
(2) Meaning would be tried as a preliminary issue.


Comment

The application under s.69 was made at the Case Management Conference at a stage when only the pleadings stage had been completed. Disclosure had not taken place. The Defendants’ complaints that it was premature to rule on mode of trial were rejected by the Judge. The decision stands as a very stark example of the willingness of the Court to assess, at a very early stage, whether the issues in the case required such a prolonged examination of documents that it could not conveniently be tried by a jury. The Court’s conclusion that the jury’s need to read the book could itself count as prolonged examination of documents does not necessarily sit easily with the authorities which suggest that the jury – as ordinary reasonable readers – should read the book through once.


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Instructing Solicitors

Simons Muirhead Burton for the Claimant; Wiggin LLP for the Defendants