How sad to see that the London Evening Standard (oh, and Mail Online, although this is less surprising) is incapable of reporting a simple judgment in an ongoing libel case properly!
The High Court, in the case of Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman v Jane Heybroek, has reached a judgment with regard to the meaning of the words that are at issue, and whether they are statements of fact or expressions of opinion.
And the Standard‘s interpretation of this judgment is arse-backwards.
“Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman win first round of libel battle” trumpets the headline – wrongly. The judgment was neutral. Nobody has won or lost anything.
But if any advantage were gained, This Writer would say it had to have gone to Ms Heybroek.
Here are her own comments:
Note her words [italics mine]: “This was a hearing we asked for in order to narrow down the claimants’ claims and, in my opinion, we have successfully done so.”
“Significantly, the Judge has found that the first meaning… and the italicised words in the second meaning… were statements of opinion. This is a potentially crucial development because statements of opinion are afforded a defence where the basis of the opinion is indicated, and an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of facts existing at the time.”
Reference to the judgment on the court website Bailii shows that Ms Heybroek’s representative, Mr Helme, won more points than the claimants’. Consider the Judge’s agreement with him at paragraphs 61, 63, 72, 75, 77, 79, 81 and 83; and the Judge’s disagreement with the claimants’ representative, Mr Stables, at paragraphs 58, 59, and 65.
In brief, Ms Heybroek won her arguments that the words at issue were expressions of opinion rather than statements of fact. Whether they were defamatory was never likely to be in doubt – but of course that doesn’t mean that they were libellous. If they were statements of honest opinion, and the facts on which they were based were accurate to the best of her knowledge at the time, then they were not.
And it is to be noted that these are all secondary considerations; Ms Riley and Ms Oberman’s complaint is not about an article by a third party (the matter on which this judgment is made) but about whether Ms Heybroek libelled them by retweeting a link to it. Ms Heybroek states: “Note that this ruling on meanings is without prejudice to my contention that I am not liable for publication of the article by virtue of my re-tweeting a tweet containing a hyperlink to it. That issue remains to be determined, either at trial or before.”
So it seems clear that Ms Heybroek won far more than Ms Riley or Ms Oberman. But that information seems to have zoomed right over the head of whoever reported the case to the Standard and the Mail.
Far be it from me to attribute malign intentions, but this failure of accurate reporting can have a serious harmful effect on justice.
Libel cases are hugely expensive and people like Ms Heybroek and myself – This Writer is fighting an ongoing case brought by Ms Riley, remember – cannot afford to defend against the accusations without help.
We ask sympathetic members of the public to support us with donations – but they may be discouraged from doing so, if they read or hear a report claiming that Ms Riley (and Ms Oberman, in Ms Heybroek’s case) is somehow winning.
Conversely, if they discover that such claims are false, I would hope members of the public would find their determination to support the defendants redoubled.
The expense of the hearing has put Ms Heybroek out-of-pocket. She is crowdfunding to pay for her case and if you can afford to help, her CrowdJustice site may be found here.
As for my own case – the request is the same as usual. Please:
Consider making a donation yourself, if you can afford it, via my own CrowdJustice page.
Email your friends, asking them to pledge to the CrowdJustice site.
Post a link to Facebook, asking readers to pledge.
On Twitter, tweet in support, quoting the address of the appeal.
On other social media platforms, please mention the campaign there, quoting the appeal address.
It would be nice to see Ms Riley and/or Ms Oberman distancing themselves from the inaccurate media reports.
But, considering my own belief that they would be as happy to win their cases by starving us of funds as they would in a courtroom, I fear I may have to wait a long time for that.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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