There’s something about a good libel case that makes all other litigation look, well, just a little bit boring.
Maybe it’s the celebrities that are so often involved, or the fact that newspaper editors can become the subject rather than conduit of the story. And for legal swots there’s often the chance to have a pop at the presiding judge, more often than not Mr Justice Eady.
As libel battles go the upcoming one brought by Matt Fiddes, a friend of the Jackson pop dynasty, against Channel 4, Studio Lambert and documentary producer Jane Preston is hardly going to be groundbreaking. Unlike the recent Court of Appeal case concerning science writer Simon Singh, which overturned an earlier Eady J ruling that said Singh couldn’t use the fair comment defence in a case brought against by him by the British Chiropractic Association, the Fiddes action isn’t going to change any laws.
But, with the hearing expected to last for 20 days when it hits London’s High Court on 14 June, it’s hardly surprising that sources close to the matter are saying it will be a “bitterly fought case”. And the fact that members of the Jackson family are expected to appear as defence witnesses means the requisite element of celebrity is more than taken care of.
The action centres on documentary The Jacksons are Coming, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2008 and which followed Michael Jackson’s brother Tito as he apparently sought a home in North Devon.
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.
The defendants’ solicitor, Susan Aslan of Aslan Charles Kousetta, says her team will be able to prove the “honesty and truthfulness” of the documentary at trial.
Not so, according to Fiddes’s lawyer Chris Hutchings, a partner at M Law. “The programme conveys the meaning which the claimant pleads,” he says. “The allegations, conveyed by misleading editing and narration in the one-hour documentary made by the defendants must be justified. The defendants cannot do so.”
Bitterly fought indeed.
Despite the case being unlikely to break any new legal ground, it has all the ingredients necessary to be one of the most closely watched libel actions of the year. Apart from Eady J that is; rumour has it that Mr Justice Tugendhat will preside. As the judge who lifted the infamous John Terry gagging order earlier in the year he will at least be prepared for the media scrum that’s sure to follow the Jackson entourage into town.