BBC Panorama ordered to pay costs in IVF libel trial

The BBC has been ordered to pay an estimated £500,000 in costs to IVF specialist Mohamed Taranissi in his continuing libel action over a Panorama programme.

A claim by Taranissi that the programme, IVF Undercover, broadcast in January 2007, had damaged his reputation by making defamatory allegations about his techniques is due to be tried by a judge sitting without a jury in January.

Today, Mr Justice Eady, sitting at the High Court, said that Taranissi was entitled in principle to payment of costs forthwith which related solely to the BBC’s Reynolds defence of qualified privilege for responsible journalism in the public interest, which the corporation withdrew last month.

Taranissi was also entitled to a payment on account, but he refused to make an interim order of £250,000 – half of the estimated costs incurred – to be paid within 14 days, as he had no evidence as to costs and was not in a position to “pluck a figure out of the air”.

Taranissi’s counsel, Richard Rampton QC, had said that the BBC – which denies libel and is still claiming justification – had “thrown in the towel” after 14 months of hard work and hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs being incurred.

“It follows as a matter of justice, as night follows day, that they should pay that,” he told the judge. “Qualified privilege is put to bed in a coffin bearing the inscription `costs’.”

Adrienne Page QC, for the BBC, had argued that the payment should be deferred until the case had concludedl telling the judge: All this order can do is create the very real and substantial risk that there will be an injustice to the BBC in the event, which the court must assume is a real possibility, that they succeed in the justification defence.

“The BBC stands fully behind their journalists and the programme, and expect to have it vindicated at trial.

“If we succeed at trial on justification, the costs awarded to the BBC are likely to vastly exceed any costs incurred on qualified privilege to date.”

Outside court, Taranissi said that he was “very pleased” that the BBC had withdrawn part of its defence.

He also welcomed figures published today by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which showed that his Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC) in London had the highest success rate of any British clinic in 2006.

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