Libel case begins over Corbyn’s ‘English irony’ interview with Marr

Preliminary hearing held to decide whether case can proceed


A libel case against former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn brought by the Jewish activist Richard Millett was adjourned on Tuesday so that the judge could consider new submissions from lawyers.

The libel case revolves around an appearance by Mr Corbyn on the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show in September 2018, when he was questioned about his remarks on “Zionists” who, he had previously claimed,  “do not understand English irony”.

Tuesday’s hearing at the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court was held to enable Mr Justice Saini to determine whether the meaning of Mr Corbyn’s remarks on the show justified a libel action. 

On the programme, Mr Corbyn was asked about a speech he had made in 2013 at a meeting convened by the Palestinian Return Centre. There he had commented on an event in Parliament days earlier, where the guest speaker was the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian.

At the PRC event Mr Corbyn complained some present at the meeting in Parliament were “thankfully silent Zionists” who had behaved in a “very, very abusive manner” towards Mr Hassassian.

He added that not only did they “not understand history”, but that “they did not understand English irony, either”, despite having lived in Britain for a long time.  

Footage subsequently emerged of Mr Corbyn’s speech in 2018  with newspapers, including The Times and the Guardian, reported the “English irony” remarks and identified Mr Millett as having been present at the meeting.

Mr Corbyn was a guest on the Andrew Marr Show one month later and said that the Zionists to whom he referred had been so “disruptive” that the police wanted to throw them out, but that he had said they should remain.

He added he had been specifically referring to “two people” who had previously been “incredibly disruptive, indeed the police wanted to throw them out of the building.

During Tuesday’s preliminary trial it that five additional documents had been filed late last week by Mr Millett’s lawyer, William Bennett QC, comprising more publications’ reports on Mr Corbyn’s comments from August 2018.

Mr Corbyn’s barrister, Anthony Hudson QC, argued that the additional material should not be considered as part of Mr Millett’s original claim.

Mr Justice Saini asked for new written submissions from both barristers.

Mr Bennett’s last submission is required by July 8, after which the judge will make his ruling as to what can go forward to trial.


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