Right Hon Aitken MP and Preston; Pallister and Guardian Newspapers Ltd: CA 15 May 1997

The defendants appealed against an order that a defamation trial should proced before a judge alone.
Held: ‘Where the parties, or one of them, is a public figure, or there are matters of national interest in question, this would suggest the need for a jury trial; but a question relating to a person’s ‘fitness for public office’ is one needing detailed consideration of documents, and a jury trial may not then be appropriate. Given the overall complexity of the case resulting from the proliferation of issues and sub-issues, the amount of detail, the body of documentation and the number of witnesses, the interests of justice were best served by a painstaking, dispassionate, impartial, orderly approach to deciding where the truth lies. It was in the public interest and in the interest of each of the parties that the case should culminate in findings, for or against the plaintiff, on each of the main issues in controversy. A general verdict of a jury could leave room for doubt and continuing debate whether, on important and hotly contested issues, the plaintiff or the defendants had been vindicated. A reasoned judgment, giving the judge’s conclusions and his detailed reasons for reaching them, would by contrast settle, one would hope once and for all, whether or not the plaintiff had misconducted himself in each and every one of the ways charged. It also seems to me a serious disadvantage of jury trial that there should be a first trial of liability only immediately followed, if the general verdict were in the plaintiff’s favour, by a further trial on quantum. This would almost certainly lead to the recalling of certain witnesses and it would lead to the leading of considerable evidence concerning the aggravation of damages which is pleaded in this case with unusual fullness.’
Lord Bingham of Cornhill LCJ
Times 21-May-1997, [1997] EWCA Civ 1710, [1997] EMLR 415
Supreme Court Act 1981 69
England and Wales
CitedRothermere v Times Newspapers Ltd CA 1973
The court considered whether to order a defamation trial to be heard by judge alone, rather than before a jury.
Held: The criterion that the trial requires a prolonged examination of documents is basic and must be strictly satisfied, and it is . .
CitedBeta Construction Ltd v Channel Four Television Co Ltd CA 1990
When considering the number of documents to be considered when deciding whether a defamation case should proceed before a judge or judge and jury, the court was entitled to look also at any specialised technical content of the documents and also . .
CitedTaylor v Anderton (Police Complaints Authority Intervening) CA 19-Jan-1995
Reports, which had been prepared for the purposes of a police complaint procedure, could be entitled to protection from disclosure under a public interest immunity certificate. The court also considered the relationship between the documentation and . .
CitedGoldsmith v Pressdram Ltd CA 1988
The court considered whether to order a defamation trial to be before a judge alone, or with a jury.
Held: The word ‘examination’ has a wide connotation, is not limited to the documents which contain the actual evidence in the case and . .

Cited by:
CitedCollins Stewart Ltd and Another v The Financial Times Ltd QBD 20-Oct-2004
The claimants sought damages for defamation. The claimed that the article had caused very substantial losses (andpound;230 million) to them by affecting their market capitalisation value. The defendant sought to strike out that part of the claim. . .
CitedFiddes v Channel Four Television Corporation and Others CA 29-Jun-2010
The claimants in a defamation case made an interlocutory appeal against an order for trial by judge alone. The parties had agreed for trial by jury, but the defendants made a late application for trial by judge alone.
Held: The claimant’s . .
CitedCook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 29-Mar-2011
The claimant, an MP, complained in defamation of the defendant’s description of his rejected expenses claim regarding an assistant’s charitable donation. The paper pleaded a Reynolds defence. The claimant said that when published the defendant knew . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 28 January 2021; Ref: scu.142106