Standard opera libel case appeal rejected by Euro Court

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected an application by composer Keith Burstein over the Court of Appeal’s decision not to allow him a jury trial in his libel battle with the Evening Standard.

The application was declared inadmissible on September 7 by Judge Giovanni Bonello, the Court’s Maltese judge, under the single judge procedure introduced in Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The protocol allows a procedure under which a single judge is empowered to reject “clearly inadmissible applications”.

Burstein sued the Evening Standard over an August 2005 review by Veronica Lee of the opera Manifest Destiny, which he composed and co-wrote, and which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival.

Lee described the opera – about a would-be suicide bomber being handed over to the Americans by her cell leader in a failed bid to save her – as “depressingly anti-American”, adding that “the idea that there is anything heroic about suicide bombers is, frankly, a grievous insult”.

Burstein claimed the review was defamatory and meant that he sympathised with terrorist causes and actively promoted such belief in his work, and also that he applauded the action of suicide bombers and raised them to a level of heroism in his work.

Justice Eady held at first instance that he could not hold that the words complained of were incapable of bearing the meaning claimed by Mr Burstein, and that a defence of fair comment might not succeed before a jury.

But the Court of Appeal overturned the decision and awarded summary judgment to Associated Newspapers, which was the Evening Standard’s publisher at the time.

The House of Lords rejected Burstein’s petition for permission to appeal.

Burstein then turned to the Strasbourg court, arguing that his human rights were breached because he had been denied the right to a jury trial.

But Judge Bonello declared his application inadmissible.

The notification to Burstein’s counsel, Abdurahman Jafar, said: “In the light of all the material in its possession and in so far as the matters complained of were within its competence, the Court found that they did not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its protocols.”

Burstein said the Court of Appeal’s decision had meant that everything else he and his legal team tried, including the application to the European Court, had a slim chance of success.

He was bankrupted in 2008 over a £67,000 costs order made by the Court of Appeal, which led to his losing the rights to his music.

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