Judgment day in Joseph v Spiller

Claimants win but only nominal damages after

Judgment was handed down this morning by Mr Justice Tugendhat in the long-awaited libel trial of Joseph v Spiller.

Craig Joseph, the front man of a Motown tribute band, The Gillettes, together with his fellow band members, complained about a posting which appeared on a website run by 1311 Events, a musical acts agency. It questioned the band’s trustworthiness, professionalism, and ability to adhere to contractual obligations.

A libel action was brought against both 1311 Events, and the company’s owner, Jason Spiller.

Before trial, the facts had already been considered by the Supreme Court on the question of honest comment, where the Defendants successfully argued for the reinstatement of their honest comment defence. The Court made clear that, provided the facts relied on in support of an honest comment defence were identified with “sufficient particularity”, the defence could be relied on.

At trial however, the Defendants lost on both justification and honest comment, with the Judge finding that they failed to prove the truth of two of the more serious allegations contained in the posting. He explained: “There was no risk that The Gillettes might not abide by the terms of any contract between themselves and any client, and Mr Spiller did not believe that there was any such risk.” On that basis, Mr Spiller was also found to have acted maliciously in having made the posting.

Despite finding in the Claimants’ favour however, the Judge awarded only nominal damages. He found Craig Joseph to have abused the process of the Court by lying in his evidence and “deliberately pursuing a false claim for special damages”. Although the Judge accepted that there had been no suggestion that the other two Claimants had been dishonest, their reputations were tied to that of Craig Joseph and so they were also entitled only to nominal damages.

William Bennett appeared for the Claimants, instructed by Pattinson & Brewer.