JK Rowling lawyer accuses Daily Mail of 'nit picking' in dispute over wording of statement in open court

The Daily Mail has challenged a High Court ruling that allowed author J K Rowling (pictured, Reuters)  to read a unilateral statement in open court as part of the settlement of a libel claim.

Associated Newspapers does not dispute that Rowling is entitled to make a statement but objects to a number of terms in the proposed draft.

Rowling, who brought the defamation action over a September 2013 story in the Daily Mail and Mail Online about her account of her time as a single mother in Scotland, was not at the Court of Appeal in London for yesterday's hearing.

Andrew Caldecott QC, for Associated Newspapers, told Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Ryder and Lady Justice Sharp that Mr Justice Tugendhat's ruling, in April last year, was a "most unsatisfactory precedent" and one, which if generally followed, would create difficulties for the offer of amends regime – the procedure which provides for a defendant to make an open offer to pay costs and damages with an apology, and is intended to bring a speedy end to litigation in cases where a defendant has unintentionally made statements which it admits to be untrue.

A claimant who rejects an offer of amends may only recover damages through the courts if he or she can prove malice on the part of the defendant.

Caldecott told the court: "Although this appeal raises important issues, it in no way seeks to dilute or qualify the published apologies to Ms Rowling which she was properly and rightly entitled to."

The apology, which appeared both online and in the hard copy of the newspaper, was part of an unqualified offer of amends, which Rowling accepted in January 2014. Compensation has also been agreed.

Caldecott said the whole purpose of a statement in open court was to attract wide publicity, which made it the more important that the statement was confined to, and accurately reflected, the pleaded claim.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, for Rowling, said the appeal did not, as claimed, raise any important issue of principle or practice in defamation law, but was plainly misconceived and an "exercise in nit-picking".

He said that only rarely should a defendant be permitted to dictate to a claimant what she was permitted to say in a statement in open court.

And he said it was primarily a matter between the court and the party wishing to make a statement, and the proper arbiter of what was acceptable in a unilateral statement was the judge.

The court reserved judgment.

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