Brexit businessman succeeds on serious harm appeal
The Court of Appeal has today handed down its judgment in the appeal brought by Arron Banks against the High Court decision in his libel claim against journalist Carole Cadwalladr. Warby LJ, with whom Sharp P and Singh LJ agreed, ruled in favour of Mr Banks that Ms Cadwalladr’s TED Talk had caused serious harm to his reputation.
Mr Banks sued over a TED Talk given by Ms Cadwalladr, and a tweet referring to it, each of which the court held meant that “On more than one occasion Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding”.
Ms Cadwalladr abandoned her defence of truth and apologised, saying she had not intended to convey this to readers and accepting that it was not true. She maintained a public interest defence under s.4, Defamation Act 2013. The trial judge, Steyn J, held that the statements had caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation. In respect of the s.4 defence, the Judge held that Ms Cadwalladr initially held a reasonable belief that publish these statements was in the public interest, but that this was no longer the case following statements made by the National Crime Agency and Electoral Commission that there was no evidence of Mr Banks receiving third party funding or acting as a third party’s agent. However, Steyn J determined that serious harm needed to be reconsidered in respect of this post-defence period, and ruled that Mr Banks’s claim failed as he had not established it.
Warby LJ, with whom Sharp P and Singh LJ agreed, held that Steyn J had been correct in principle to reconsider the issue of serious harm in relation to the period after Ms Cadwalladr’s public interest defence fell away. The Court held that the Judge had also not been wrong to dismiss the claim in respect of Ms Cadwalladr’s tweet. However, the Judge had erred in ruling that the continuing publication of Ms Cadwalladr’s TED Talk had not caused serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation.
Warby LJ said that the Judge had had no proper basis to find that the publishees of Ms Cadwalladr’s statements were within her “echo chamber” and of “no consequence” to Mr Banks, and so wrong to find no serious harm to Mr Banks’ reputation as a result. Serious harm was an inevitable inference from the inherent gravity of the allegation and the scale of publication.
The Court will now consider the appropriate next steps as to awarding damages and other remedies.
5RB’s Richard Munden acted for Mr Banks on the appeal, instructed by Lysander Law and led by Benjamin Williams KC of 4 New Square.