Polanski on screen himself for Vanity Fair libel case

By Roger Pearson

One of the brightest legal shows in London this week has been the
High Court libel case in which fugitive film director Roman Polanski is
suing Vanity Fair for damages. The magazine alleged that he groped and
seduced a Swedish girl on his way to the funeral of his murdered wife,
Sharon Tate.

Actress Mia Farrow, who starred in Polanski’s hit film Rosemary’s Baby, was high up on the High Court cast.

However,
this show at London’s Royal Courts of Justice was the tip of an iceberg
that has already taken the case to the House of Lords, creating libel
law precedent and running up massive legal bills before the main
hearing even reached court this week.

Numerous hearings involving
the case have been before the High Court, Appeal Court and the House of
Lords over recent years, on a precedentmaking side issue.

They
have centred on the right of Polanski to give evidence by video link,
because he fears that if he comes to the UK he will be extradited to
the US, where he is wanted in connection with allegations of sex with a
minor.

Ultimately, the House of Lords earlier this year ruled
that he was entitled to give evidence by video link, which is why this
week we were treated to a scene, unique in a libel action, of the
claimant being absent from the court and instead giving his evidence
before the jury of nine men and three women from a video screen.

However,
the new technology approach, while it might have protected Polanski
from the risk of extradition, did not save him from being grilled by
Tom Shields, QC, counsel for Vanity Fair.

The magazine argues
that the article at the centre of the case was true and that even if
the jury decide it was not, Polanski should not receive any damages
anyway, because he had no reputation to damage.

During his
on-screen cross-examination, Polanski was asked by Shields why he was
seeking “justice” in this country, when he had not sued in either the
US or Paris.

Polanski said he had chosen to sue here because it gave him the opportunity to give evidence by video link.

The hearing continues.

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