Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 24 Feb 2005
Summary: Defamation – Libel – Mode of trial – Prolonged examination of documents – s.69 Supreme Court Act 1981
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Appearances: Adrienne Page KC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) Jane Phillips (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Defendants
Application by three Defendants for their libel action to be heard by judge alone on the ground that prolonged examination of documents would be required. The Defendants stated that the trial bundle was going to contain at least 369 pages and identified the documents which they contended needed to be carefully read. These included the letter complained of and its various drafts; legal advices; a report; and interviews. The Claimant pointed out that the words complained of always have to be read with care in libel actions and that the meaning of the documents identified by the Defendants was clear and a jury could easily cope with them.
(1) Was there going to be prolonged examination of documents?
(2) If so, could that examination be conveniently be made with a jury?
(3) If not, should the court nevertheless exercise its discretion to order trial with a jury?
(1) The case will involve prolonged examination of documents.
(2) While the judge accepted that the words of the letter, article or broadcast complained of will always have to be considered with care, this was particularly so in the present case due to the length of the letter and its various drafts. The exercise of examining the documents would be substantially more difficult with a jury than it would be with a judge alone. The emphasis nowadays was against trial by juries and trial by judge alone carries with it the advantage of a reasoned judgment.
The Court made it clear that the question of whether prolonged examination of documents was required was essentially a factual question and that the party seeking to dispense with the jury should indicate which documents it contends will require prolonged examination as well as indicating the generality of the documentary evidence which will be required.