Richard Desmond can take heart. Someone comes out of his disasterous libel action against Tom Bower looking worse than he does, and it’s the judge.
The Guardian reported shortly after the trial ended that Eady was criticised by the appeal judges for his decision to block certain evidence from trial (specifically, a tape of Desmond telling a hedge-fund manager with whom he was in dispute that he would be “the worst fucking enemy you’ll ever have” three days before a defamatory article appeared in the Express). This week’s Private Eye (1242) gives the case in more detail, and it sounds even more like a near-disasterous example of judicial mishandling.
From the Guardian:
One of them, Lord Justice Pill, said: “In this case it appears to me that, with respect, the decision of Mr Justice Eady in context was plainly wrong.”
Lord Justice Hooper went further: “Unless the court interferes, the jury will not hear evidence, the absence of which in my view might lead to a miscarriage of justice.
“In my view, this is not a case of interfering with a case management decision or interfering with some discretionary decision of the judge. It is taking steps to ensure that a possible miscarriage of justice does not occur.”
Lord Justice Wilson also agreed the tape should be heard: “The risk that, without access to the tape, the jury might reach a false conclusion about the existence of a grudge and the genesis of the article relating to Pentagon [Omid’s fund] is substantial.”
Guardian, “Judge rebuked by court of appeal during Richard Desmond libel case”
The Eye adds that Eady excluded the word “pornography” from the courtroom, making it easy for Desmond (who apparently resents being associated with the word) to deny that he took any offence to a Telegraph article on his porn interests. (In the end, Bower’s QC got Eady to allow the p-word to be mentioned.) The discontent of the appeal judges is also explained: Eady ignored original guidance that the tape should be admitted and then attempted to exclude it on the grounds of avoiding “delay” before getting the ultimate telling-off.
However, even when forced to admit the evidence, Eady’s conduct remained unimpressive. The Eye continues:
If [the appeal judges] had found otherwise, Bower would have had strong grounds for appeal, since Eady’s summing-up was littered with misrepresentations and mistakes. At one point, perhaps in a fit of absent-mindedness, he even read out to the jury a passage from a witness statement by Conrad Black which he himself had ruled inadmissable.
Private Eye, “Desmond v Bower” (issue 1242, p. 6)
The damage to Richard Desmond’s reputation from this is minimal: the failed libel action only confirms what was already universally known about him. Eady, though, might be in greater difficulties. Private Eye concludes by wondering whether he’s due to be pushed into retirement – and there are consequences, too, for the understanding of other libel cases with which he’s been involved (including BCA v Simon Singh) which have often seemed overly-sympathetic to the plaintiff. If Eady is due to be removed, we might finally find out to what extent his judgements are down to personal caprice and error – and how far he’s simply been enacting the law.
See also: “How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero”, by me at Liberal Conspiracy (complete with erroneous promotion of Eady to “Lord”).
© Sarah Ditum, 2009