Defendant’s appeal dismissed in Millett v Corbyn

Court of Appeal dismisses Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal against decisions that publication complained of consisted of statements of fact, not opinion, and defamed the Claimant

The Court of Appeal (Vos MR, Sharp P and Warby LJ) has this morning handed down judgment in an appeal brought by the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP against Saini J’s first instance decision in a trial of preliminary issues in this libel action.  The appeal concerned Saini J’s finding that words complained of conveyed imputations of fact that were defamatory at common law.  The appeal was dismissed.

The Claimant, Richard Millett, is a blogger, reporter and commentator whose subjects of interest include Israel, its policies on Palestine, and the Palestinian people.

In an edition of the Andrew Marr Show in September 2018, Mr Corbyn had responded to Mr Marr’s questions about a video that had come to light of a speech made by Mr Corbyn in 2013 and that had attracted considerable news coverage.  In the 2013 speech Mr Corbyn had referred to “Zionists” who “don’t understand English irony”.  In answer to Mr Marr, Mr Corbyn described the disruptive and abusive behaviour of the two “Zionists” he had been referring to in 2013.  Mr Corbyn did not name these two people.  Mr Millett sues on the basis that, although he was not named in the statement, he was defamed because national media coverage before the broadcast of the Andrew Marr programme made him identifiable to viewers as one of those referred to by Mr Corbyn’s remarks about “Zionists”.

In a trial of preliminary issues Saini J had determined the meaning of the words complained of, that the imputations conveyed were ones of fact, and that the imputations were defamatory at common law.  The appeal concerned the latter two decisions.

In respect of the fact/opinion issue the Court of Appeal held that, “the Judge’s decision on the fact/opinion issue represents an unobjectionable application of accepted principles to the undisputed facts of the case”.

And in respect of whether the imputations found were defamatory at common law that, “Alleging disruptive behaviour that leads the police to want to remove a person from a public meeting, and alleging such verbal abuse of a public speaker that the Leader of the Opposition was forced to speak up in controversial terms to defend him, crosses the common law threshold of seriousness. The Judge was right to hold that such allegations would tend to have a substantial adverse effect on the attitude that people would take to Mr Millett.

The judgment can be downloaded from the ‘Files’ link below.

Mr Millett was represented by William Bennett QC and John Stables of 5RB.