75k jury award upheld on appeal

Judges need not always take prior judgment into account on damages

The jury award of £75,000 made to Tony Purnell, the former Principal of the Jaguar Racing Formula 1 team, has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.


The libel complained of was published in Business F1 magazine.  It accused Mr Purnell of bribing a journalist. The Defendants advanced a justification defence which Eady J struck out on 14 March 2006. A trial before a jury then took place in May 2006 in order to assess the quantum of damages. The trial judge suggested a bracket of £25,000 to £60,000 but the jury awarded £75,000.


The Defendants’ ground for appeal was that by reason of the earlier Eady J judgment the trial jury should have been directed not to include any element for vindication in their damages award. This was despite the fact that following the Eady J judgment the Defendants’ published an article rubbishing it and at the trial refused to accept its finding. Laws LJ condemned the Defendants for having done their best at the trial to escape the grip of the Eady J decision but then seeking before the Court of Appeal to “embrace” it. He concluded that the appeal lacked legal merit.


Laws LJ did conclude that a prior reasoned judgment on justification was at least capable of providing some vindication to a claimant and that therefore a jury might take it into account in deciding upon the quantum of damages i.e. it might therefore qualify the need for the award of itself to vindicate the claimant. However, he emphasised that the effect of a prior judgment was likely to be marginal in this respect.


5RB‘s William Bennett (instructed by Steeles) was sole counsel for Mr Purnell.