September 1, 2014
Defamation Act 2013 – First Cases
Courts consider serious harm and jury trial
The High Court has heard and delivered judgments in the first cases brought under the Defamation Act 2013.
In Cooke v MGN  EWHC 2831 (QB), Bean J was asked to decide meaning and serious harm as preliminary issues. The Judge found that the Claimants had not overcome the serious harm threshold at section 1(1) Defamation Act 2013. The fact that an apology had been issued and remained online more prominently than the original article was considered an important factor in assessing whether the original article had caused or was likely to cause serious harm to the reputations of the Claimants. This case shows that section 1 of the Act does indeed represent a “raising of the bar”.
A full 5RB case report on Cooke v MGN can be found here.
In Yeo MP v Times Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 2853 (QB), Warby J heard an application for trial by jury. The law to be applied was section 69 Senior Courts Act 1981, as amended by section 11 Defamation Act 2013. Section 11 removed the presumption of trial by jury in defamation cases, so that the usual rule applies – an action “shall be tried without a jury unless a court in its discretion orders it to be tried with a jury.” The Judge decided not to exercise his discretion to order trial by jury. Where a case involves a public figure, trial by jury will only be appropriate where there is a risk a judge might show involuntary bias towards one of the parties on grounds of their status or rank, that a judge might not appear to be as impartial as a jury. Such cases will be rare. Warby J also considered the advantages of a judge-alone trial, including the resulting reasoned judgment, proportionality and case management.
A full 5RB case report on Yeo v Times Newspapers Ltd can be found here.
It is clear that there are many aspects of the Defamation Act 2013 which have yet to be addressed by the court. As cases begin to be heard the extent of the changes brought by the Act will continue to be clarified.