Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, the country’s most senior judge, will chair a panel of three to preside over a landmark libel trial set to be heard by the Court of Appeal in February.
The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley will share the panel to preside over the preliminary hearing of author Simon Singh’s appeal of the judgment in an earlier case against brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).
It is understood that there were deliberations over the panel because of the significance of the case. Originally Lord Justice Richards and Lady Justice Arden were to join Sedley LJ to hear the case.
Judge LCJ is believed to have expressed a keen interest in its outcome and his appointment to the panel will be confirmed on Monday.
Singh’s lawyer Robert Dougans, an associate at Bryan Cave, was informed of Judge LCJ’s appointment by The Lawyer magazine. He expressed his surprise at the decision, adding that it was “highly unusual” to have both the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls sitting together, especially for a preliminary appeal hearing.
“The news is very encouraging as it shows the judiciary are going to look into the wider area of libel law,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard to get the Court of Appeal to take this case on, but I’m not sure we dare be optimistic.
In 2008 the BCA sued Singh for libel after The Guardian ran an article in which he was critical of the view that chiropractors can cure disease by manipulating the spine.
During a High Court hearing in May Mr Justice Eady ruled that the article should be considered as fact and that it contained “the plainest allegation of dishonesty and indeed it accuses them [the BCA] of thoroughly disreputable conduct”.
Dougans at Bryan Cave instructed 5 Raymond Building’s Adrienne Page QC to act for Singh in his appeal.
Doughty Street’s Heather Rogers QC has been instructed by Collyer Bristow partner Rhory Robertson to act for the BCA.
The news has been well received by the National Campaign for Libel Reform, which officially launched this week.
Formed from a coalition of campaign groups English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science, The National Campaign for Libel Reform took its campaign to the House of Commons on Thursday, urging MPs to support a bill for major reforms of English libel laws.
A mixture of celebrities, broadcasters, publishers and members of academia attended the event, including the BBC’s Nick Ross, the president of the Association of British Science Writers Natasha Loder and Gill Phillips, director of editorial legal services at The Guardian.
Phillips said: “There’s a long way to go to identify what reforms are needed. But the cross party consensus reflects the width of concern from all walks of life that libel needs to change.”