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    Monday, 31 May 2010

    'Twelve good men and true' sitting on a wall: juries in libel

    The issue of whether libel trials require juries has become a key focus for debate in the context of reform.  In his final report on the costs of civil litigation, Lord Justice Jackson mooted the possibility of this change. In our paper on reform options, Alastair Mullis and I explicitly cited this possibility as a potentially desirable 'cost-saving process change'. In its report, the Libel Reform Working Group found that views were mixed on the desirability of removing juries altogether, but suggested that the determination of meaning might somehow be expedited (at [91]-[100]).

    On the flip-side, there are obviously risks in allotting the role regarding the determination of meaning to a sole judge. As has been illustrated of late, parties will not always get the meanings they want. Moreover, very few cases ever reach the full trial and so the savings in cost will usually be negligible (although the perception that costs will be lower might see more cases reach the trial stage). For some, there is also a point of principle at stake: the 'constitutional' right to have a jury determine meaning.

    In this context, Inforrm has a very interesting blogpost this morning regarding an as yet unreported preliminary ruling in Fiddes v Channel Four. It seems Mr Justice Tugendhat may have preempted the reform debate on grounds, inter alia, of the importance of freedom of expression.

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