February 1, 2008
Big Brother’s Lisa loses libel appeal
Court of Appeal dismisses appeal on 'transsexual' meaning
The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed Lisa Jeynes’s appeal against Eady J’s order striking out her case against News Group Newspapers and News Group Magazines Limited.
Miss Jeynes, a former Big Brother contestant, had complained about a coverline on the front cover of a tabloid magazine, Love It!, trailing an article inside the magazine based on an interview with her. The words of the coverline were, “BB’s Lisa ‘The Geezer’; My fake boobs fell out on date with James Hewitt”. The Court of Appeal held that the judge was right in holding that these words were incapable of meaning that Miss Jeynes was a man posing as a woman, or that she was a transgendered or transsexual person. The Master of the Rolls held that these meanings were “fanciful, absurd and factitious”.
The appeal was decided on established principles as to meaning but the case does raise one novel point of significance. Sedley LJ had given permission to appeal at an oral hearing on the grounds that meaning “is quintessentially a matter for a jury, especially … in matters of demotic literature and popular culture”. The Court of Appeal disapproved of this statement of principle, which implied that publishers of tabloids had to jump a higher hurdle when seeking to strike out meanings. The Master of the Rolls emphasised that it was the duty of the judge in every case to determine whether the words were capable of bearing the meanings pleaded. The jury did not have an enhanced or special role in cases involving “popular culture”.
By consent, the Respondents were awarded their costs of the appeal in full, the parties having reached agreement before judgment as to liability for costs in the event of one side or the other succeeding.