Lord Neuberger to lead appeal panel over Channel Four libel jury case

The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger will examine Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision to disallow a jury in a major libel trial against Channel Four.


Lord Neuberger
Lord Neuberger

The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger will examine Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision to disallow a jury in a major libel trial against Channel Four.

Last month (28 May) defendants Channel Four, Studio Lambert and Jane Preston requested that the case being brought against them by Matthew Fiddes be decided by judge alone.

Channel Four’s barrister 5RB silk Adrienne Page QC argued before Tugendhat J that the complex nature of the claim meant it was unsuitable for a jury trial. Furthermore, she added, it add yet more costs to the £3m accumulated by both sides so far (2 June).

In his ruling Tugendhat J said: “Costs are now acknowledged to present a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Ruling in favour of the defendant, the High Court judge stated: “Vast as they are, these costs are, I’m afraid, not untypical of libel litigation. Not many cases get to trial […] and when they do get to trial, the costs are enormous. Here it is in excess of £3m.

“Nevertheless, if there are savings in costs to be made, even at this late stage, they can be made.”

The decision was immediately appealed and has been listed for Thursday with Neuberger MR presiding over a three strong panel which will include Lord Justice Kay. A third panel member is yet to be appointed.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict straight away as the trial is set dowm for a 20 day hearing from Monday (14 June).

It will centre on allegations that Fiddes was libelled by the broadcaster, documentary maker Studio Lambert and producer Jane Preston.

The documentary, which was named The Jacksons are Coming and was first aired in November 2008, followed late pop star Michael Jackson’s brother Tito and his entourage when they stayed in North Devon for five weeks as they apparently looked for a home in the area.

Fiddes, who had known the Jacksons for a number of years, took part in the show but is claiming that he was misrepresented, with the programme suggesting that he tipped the press off about the Jacksons’ whereabouts for personal gain.

Aslan Charles Kousetta partner Susan Aslan instructed Page for the defendants.

M Law partner Chris Hutchings has instructed Ron Thwaites QC of Ely Place for the claimant.