Full case report

Grobbelaar v News Group Newspapers Ltd

Reference [2002] UKHL 40; [2002] 1 WLR 3024; [2002] 4 All ER 732; [2003] EMLR 1
Court House of Lords

Judge Lords Bingham, Steyn, Hobhouse, Millett and Scott

Date of Judgment 24 Oct 2002


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Review of jury verdict – Damages – Inherent power of House of Lords


Facts

The Claimant footballer brought a libel action against the Defendants for a series of publications in the Sun newspaper alleging that he had fixed or agreed to fix football matches for money. The jury had awarded him £85,000 in compensatory damages but this had been set aside by the Court of Appeal as perverse.


Issue

(1) Whether a jury’s verdict could be reviewed;
(2) Whether the Court of Appeal were right to review the jury’s verdict; (3) Whether the House of Lords had the power to substitute an order of its own for that of the Court of Appeal’s


Held

Jury verdicts were not immune from review, but it was a very serious thing to stigmatise as perverse a unanimous jury verdict. The Court of Appeal were wrong to do so where there was an alternative and explicable explanation interpretation of the jury’s verdict. However, on the alternative explicable interpretation the jury’s award of damages could not be upheld, and would be substituted for a nominal award. The House of Lords had the inherent power to substitute the order which it concluded the Court of Appeal should have made.


Comment

A Pyrrhic victory for Mr Grobbelaar, but the decision is important for its defence of the jury in the original trial. Many thought that the Court of Appeal’s analysis of corruption by reference to 19th Century Chancery doctrines was a getting a little out of touch with the view of the average Sun reader. The Court of Appeal might not think that there is much difference between taking money to throw a match and actually throwing the match, but the jury did and their view was the one that counted. The Court of Appeal was wrong to find their verdict perverse. However, taking money to fix matches was enough to damage the Claimant’s reputation so as to justify a derisory award. Mr Grobbelaar got £1 and a very large costs bill.


Instructing Solicitors

Cuff Roberts for the Claimant. News Group Legal Dept for the Defendants.


Links

Grobbelaar faces £1m legal costs - BBC
Hollow victory for Grobbelaar - The Guardian
Humiliation, Abandonment, and Hope - The Guardian
Judgment