The Claimant (C) was the Conservative MP for South Suffolk. His Parliamentary Select Committee roles included chairing the Environmental Audit Committee from 2005 and, from 2010 and at the times relevant to this claim, being the Chairman of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee (“ECCSC”). The Defendant (D) was the publisher of the Times and the Sunday Times print and online editions.
On 21 May 2013, two members of D’s Insight team met and covertly filmed C over lunch. They posed as representatives for a solar technology developer in the Far East and had arranged to discuss an opportunity for C to provide consultancy work with an extremely generous remuneration package. The resulting articles appeared in the 9 June 2013 edition of the Sunday Times. The first appeared on the front page and was headed “Top Tory in new Lobbygate row” and there was a sub-headline: “MP coached client before committee grilling” (“the Front Page Article”). The second appeared inside and was headed “I told him in advance what to say. Ha-ha” and had a sub-headline “The chairman of a Commons committee has boasted of how he can promote businesses in which he has an interest” (“the Inside Article”). A further article appeared in the issue of the Sunday Times for 23 June headed “Lobbyist wrote peer’s speech” (“the 23 June Article”). It did not refer to C by name but did contain a paragraph referring to an investigation by Parliamentary authorities of “three Lords and a select committee chairman… after the Sunday times revealed that they were selling themselves as parliamentary advocates for paying clients”.
There were two main applications at the hearing, the first Case Management Conference in the case. The first was an application by D for trial with a Jury. This fell to be decided under the law as recently amended by s 11 of the Defamation Act 2013 (“the 2013 Act”), which amended s69 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (“the 1981 Act”). The Judge considered the pre 2013 Act law, including the decision in Rothermere v Times Newspapers Ltd  1 WLR 448, 453 and Aitken v Preston  EMLR 415.
The second principal application was by C who applied, in the event that D’s application for trial with a Jury was rejected, for the determination of what the defamatory meanings were conveyed by the words of which he complained. C also sought a ruling on whether the words complained of were fact or comment.
C alleged that the Front page and Inside Articles meant that:
“in breach of the rules of the House of Commons, C was prepared to act, and had offered himself as willing to act, as a paid Parliamentary advocate who would:
(a) push for new laws to benefit the business of a client for a fee of £7.000 a day; and
(b) approach Ministers, civil servants and other MPs to promote a client’s private agenda in return for cash.”
The meaning which D was prepared to justify in respect of the Front Page and Inside Articles was as follows:
“at a lunch meeting on 2 May 2013 C had to his discredit:
(a) boasted that he had privately told a witness for a commercial group in which he is a paid director and shareholder what the witness should say in evidence to his Select Committee and/or
(b) made a sales pitch to consultants seeking to hire him to lobby in a way which was incompatible with his position as an MP and Chairman of the ECCSC which gave reasonable grounds to suspect (alternatively to investigate) that he was willing to lobby ministers, civil servants and MPs in a way which would breach the House of Commons prohibition on paid advocacy.”
The meaning which D sought to defend as fair comment was to the same effect save that it included the comment on the allegations in D’s meaning that:
“C’s conduct at the lunch meeting showed a scandalous willingness to use his position in Parliament to further his own financial and business interests in preference to the public interest.”
C’s case on the 23 June article was that it meant that:
“in breach of the rules of the House of Commons he was selling himself as a Parliamentary advocate for paying clients.”
This was advanced as a natural and ordinary meaning or alternatively one that arose in the context of or by way of true innuendo based on the Front Page and Inside Articles. D did not admit that the article referred to C, but alternatively sought to justify the meaning that that:
“there were reasonable grounds to suspect (alternatively to investigate whether C had offered to act as a Parliamentary advocate for a paying client in a way that breached Parliamentary standards.”
There was a further subsidiary application for relief from sanctions in respect of failure to seek a notice of funding.