MP loses expenses libel appeal versus Evening Standard

The Court of Appeal yesterday threw out former MP Jacqui Lait’s libel appeal against the Evening Standard.

It upheld a High Court decision that a November 2009 Evening Standard story, about MPs who claim expenses for second homes, was fair comment.

In November 2009, Lait put her name to a letter published in The Times expressing concerns by female MPs about the possible consequences of recommendations contained in the Kelly Report into reforming expenses, which led to an article in the Evening Standard which she said was defamatory

The Times letter, signed by five MPs, argued that the reforms could deter women from becoming MPs and also compromise their safety.

The Standard reported that Lait claimed public money to commute to her family home in Sussex even though her constituency home in Beckenham was 11 miles from Westminster.

She complained the article meant that her public opposition to a reform banning additional expenses for MPs living within reasonable commuting distance of Westminster could be regarded as hypocritical and not motivated by concern for the safety of women MPs, or was apt to provoke public anger.

Today, Mr Justice Eady ruled in favour of the claim by Evening Standard Ltd that its fair comment defence was “bound to succeed” and gave summary judgment in its favour.

The paper had argued that people may well be angered, not so much because of hypocrisy, but because MPs who had claimed expenses under the old system should “slink away in shame and keep their mouths shut” in relation to proposals for reform.

The judge noted that not just the public, but also party leaders, took the approach that MPs should shut up and take their medicine. Lait was MP for Beckhenham in London, but lived in Sussex.

The Standard reported that Lait had claimed large sums to travel to her family home in Sussex, even though her constituency home was 11 miles from Westminster. And it also mistakenly reported that she been forced to pay back £25,000 in a capital gain from a taxpayer-funded home – later publishing a correction.

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