Channel 4 libel claimant appeals over judge-only trial

Lawyers representing a former bodyguard to Michael Jackson who is suing Channel 4 over a documentary have filed to appeal the decision to hold the trial without a jury.

Justice Tugendhat ruled last month that the trial over the Channel 4 documentary purporting to show Jackson’s older old brother Tito moving to Devon should be held without a jury, partly as a result of estimated costs now rising to more than £4m.

Appeal papers were lodged with the Court of Appeal on Thursday afternoon, said solicitor Chris Hutchings, a partner with law firm MLaw, which is representing the claimant, Matthew Fiddes, on a conditional fee arrangement.

Tugendhat made his original ruling after defendants, Channel 4, Studio Lambert and journalist Jane Preston, applied to have the trial overseen solely by a judge.

The trial is scheduled to start on June 14. One estimate has suggested that if it is held with a jury it could go on until the end of July, although the claimants argue that having a jury would only mean an extra day or two in court.

Hutchings said: “We are confident we are going to get permission to appeal.

“We understand that it will be heard on Monday or Tuesday next week.”

Tugendhat said that one factor in his decision that the trial should go ahead without a jury was that the case would involve viewing various sections of television footage, as well as the detailed examination of documents.

Another factor was that the case raised issues about what was or was not acceptable editorial practice in a TV broadcast presented as factual, he said, adding: “It is a very important question and there is much to be said for it to be dealt with in a reasoned judgment and for public view and which can go to appeal.”

Costs were also acknowledged to present a chilling effect on freedom of expression, which the defendants had argued had to be taken into account as the court exercised its discretion on the jury trial issue.

It is understood that Fiddes’ costs are now estimated at some £1.6 million, while those of Channel 4 and the other defendants are said to have reached £2.5 million.

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