Times in French libel battle

Criminal libel claim brought by Barclay brothers in Paris Court

The Times, its editor and a journalist begin their defence of criminal libel charges brought by David and Frederick Barclay in Paris tomorrow.

The case, in the Criminal Court, brought by the Barclay brothers, owners of The Daily Telegraph, arises from an article that was published in The Times in November 2004. The article was headlined “Twins who swoop on owners in distress”. The word “distress” was changed in later UK editions to “difficulty”, but not in the French edition. The brothers claim that the article was an attempt by The Times to undermine their ownership of the Telegraph Group.

The Barclays, who live part-time in Monte Carlo, have brought their complaint under French libel law on The Times‘ circulation in France of around 3,500 copies. The Times denies the charges and editor Robert Thomson and media editor, Dan Sabbagh are expected to appear in the French court. They are working on the case with an in-house News International legal team and lawyers from the Paris office of Clifford Chance.

In a statement, Mr Thomson said:

“That we should be in Paris arguing in French over the meaning of words published in English by a British newspaper is more than a little odd. It is even more unusual that this criminal case should be brought by the owners of another British newspaper.”

“This case also has profound consequences for all media organisations, which could be vulnerable to litigation in any country in which their content, online or offline, circulates. We have full faith in the integrity of the French legal system and of the French judiciary, and will defend ourselves vigorously in court on Thursday.”

In France criminal defamation carries a fine of up to €12,196 (£8,371). The Barclays are also seeking to enforce a French right of reply known as the droit de réponse against The Times.