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Judge makes preliminary findings in Corbyn defamation case

By Pa
July 11, 2020

LONDON: A High Court judge has made preliminary findings in a defamation fight featuring former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been sued by a political blogger. Richard Millett has complained about things Corbyn said in a BBC television interview with broadcaster Andrew Marr nearly two years ago.

He says Corbyn defamed him by accusing him of being “disruptive and abusive” at a 2013 meeting featuring a Palestinian speaker. Corbyn disputes Millett’s claims and denies defaming him.

Mr Justice Saini, who oversaw a preliminary hearing in June, on Friday made preliminary legal decisions about the meaning of words Corbyn used and whether he was stating facts or expressing opinion.

Lawyers representing Millett argued that the allegations were “factual”, lawyers representing Corbyn argued that the “words conveyed a statement of opinion”. The judge concluded that Corbyn was making “factual” allegations “as to Millett’s behaviour”.

Lawyers representing Millett argued that to accuse someone of being “disruptive and abusive to the degree in issue” must have “caused him to have been defamed”.

Lawyers representing Corbyn disagreed and argued what had been said did not lower Millett in the “estimation of right thinking people”. The judge concluded that the “words complained of” referred to Millett and “bore a meaning defamatory of Mr Millett”.

He said what had been said suggested “conduct falling below the standards expected of citizens in modern British society”. Mr Justice Saini had heard that, shortly after the meeting involving the Palestinian speaker, Corbyn, who was then not the Labour leader, had addressed a conference, organised by the Palestinian Return Centre.

Corbyn had said “the Zionists” who had attended the meeting had “berated” the Palestinian speaker. He had said these “Zionists” did not want to study history and did not understand English irony.

In August 2018, when Corbyn had become leader of the Labour Party, a video of that “irony speech” was made public. William Bennett QC, who led Millett’s legal team, said there had subsequently been “huge publicity” about “the fact that” Corbyn’s “statements during the irony speech” had been directed at Millett.

Marr had then asked Corbyn about the “irony speech”, during an interview on The Andrew Marr Show, in September 2018. The judge heard how Corbyn had told Marr that he had not been “anti-Semitic”.

He said “the two people” had been “incredibly disruptive” and he had accused them of not understanding English irony, because he wanted to defend the Palestinian speaker.

Millett says people who had read media articles saying statements Corbyn made during the “irony speech” were directed at him, would have realised that the Labour leader was referring to him when telling Marr about “two people” who had been “incredibly disruptive”.