Gregson v Channel Four Television

Reference: [2002] EWCA Civ 941

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Waller & Robert Walker LJJ

Date of judgment: 4 Jul 2002

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Mode of Trial - Prolonged Examination of documents - s.69 Supreme Court Act 1981

Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: DJ Freeman for the Defendant

Facts

After a jury had given a verdict on the meaning conveyed by a television programme, the trial judge had granted the Claimant’s an application to have the remaining issues of (1) qualified privilege; (2) malice and (3) damages tried by judge alone. He held that the trial of these issues involved and prolonged examination of documents that could not be conveniently tried by a jury. The Defendant appealed on the grounds that: (1) the judge had misjudged the extent to which any of the documents would need prolonged examination; and (2) in exercising his discretion under s.69 Supreme Court Act 1981 he had failed to give sufficient weight to the right of Channel 4 to have their good names and integrity vindicated by a jury given the serious allegations made against them by the Claimant in his malice plea.

Issue

Whether the Judge had been right to order trial by judge alone on the remaining issues.

Held

Appeal dismissed. The exercise of discretion was unimpeachable. The extent to which a prolonged examination of documents was required was essentially a case management decision a decision pre-eminently for the trial judge.

Comment

The decision raises questions about the role of the jury in trials involving the Reynolds’ qualified privilege Defence. The decision to proceed with a judge alone trial after the jury had returned a verdict on meaning may prove to be an attractive way of avoiding some of the difficulties of having a jury try a Reynolds’ Defence. Whether this is consistent with the right to jury trial in defamation cases did not seem to trouble the Court of Appeal greatly.

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