Lynn Barber libel case to be heard by jury

The Daily Telegraph has lost a bid to have its long-running libel battle with academic Dr Sarah Thornton heard by a judge alone.

Thornton is suing the newspaper over what she claims was a defamatory reference to copy approval in journalist Lynn Barber’s review of her book, Seven Days in the Art World, which appeared in the paper’s Saturday edition on 1 November 2008.

The case is listed to be tried in July – with a jury.

There was a hearing in the High Court in February at which it appeared that there was no dispute over the mode of trial, but in April the Daily Telegraph applied for an order that the trial should be by judge alone.

Mr Justice Tugendhat rejected the application at a hearing on 18 May, handing down his reasons on 27 May.

He rejected the submission by David Price QC, for the newspaper, that an order made in 4 February, that the trial should be held with a jury, was made without jurisdiction.

“It is an order which was apt to carry into effect the purpose the court was seeking to achieve … and was not in that sense a fundamental procedural error,” Mr Justice Tugendhat said.

“It was also made on the application of Dr Thornton, albeit one that was out of time, and for which an application notice had been dispensed with.”

Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “I accept that it is open to the court at any time to change the mode of trial.

“That happened at a very late stage in Fiddes v Channel Four Television Corporation ([2010] 1 WLR 2245). In that case there was a change of circumstances. It had become apparent that the trial would require prolonged examination of documents that could not conveniently be made with a jury.

“However, in the interests of justice to the parties, there must be a degree of certainty that directions once given will continue to have effect…”

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