Pro-Israel activist Richard Millett wins first stage of High Court libel case against Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Justice Saini rules it is reasonable to conclude that Mr Corbyn’s comments on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show did refer to Mr Millett


A High Court judge has ruled that statements made by Jeremy Corbyn on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show in September 2018 could be held to be defamatory of the pro-Israel activist Richard Millett.

In a judgement delivered on Friday Mr Justice Saini rejected the claim by lawyers representing the former Labour leader that he was not referring to Mr Millett when he appeared on the programme and was asked to defend earlier remarks made about “Zionists” who, he believed, “do not understand English irony”.

Handing down his judgement, Justice Saini concluded: "To summarise my rulings on the preliminary issues, I find that the words complained of referred to Mr Millett; that they bore a meaning defamatory of Mr Millett as identified above; and I find that the allegations were factual.”

A June 23rd hearing at the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court took place to enable Mr Justice Saini to determine whether the meaning of Mr Corbyn’s remarks on the show justified a libel action. 

The libel case revolves around an appearance by Mr Corbyn on the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show in September 2018.

Mr. Millett launched a libel action alleging that the words spoken by Mr Corbyn in the programme were defamatory of him and their publication caused and is likely to cause serious harm to his reputation.

Mark Lewis, of Patron Law, who is representing Mr Millett told the JC: "The judge rejected the argument that Mr Corbyn was not referring to Richard Millett when he appeared on the Marr Show defending his 'irony statement'.

"The Court accepted that these were factual allegations that have a defamatory meaning."

During his appearance on Marr, 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.

A video of the 2013  PRC event showed Mr Corbyn had said: "The other evening we had a meeting in Parliament in which Manuel made an incredibly powerful and passionate and effective speech about the history of Palestine, the rights of the Palestinian people.

“This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly have two problems. One is they don't want to study history and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, and probably all their lives, they don't understand English irony either."

Footage had 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.

The BBC presenter suggested Mr Corbyn’s comments had been “a strange thing to say.”

Mr Corbyn responded: "Well, I was at a meeting in the House of Commons and the two people I referred to had been incredibly disruptive, indeed the police wanted to throw them out of the meeting. I didn't.

“I said they should remain in the meeting. They had been disruptive at a number of meetings.

“At the later meeting when Manuel spoke they were quiet, but they came up and were really, really strong on him afterwards and he was quite upset by it.

“I know Manuel Hassassian quite well.  And I was speaking in his defence. Manuel of course is the Palestinian Ambassador of this country.”

Mr Marr then asked Mr Corbyn: “Do you now accept what you said was antisemitic?”

The ex-Labour leader replied: “Well, it was not intended to be antisemitic in any way and I have no intention and have absolute opposition in every way to antisemitism though I can see where it leads to. I can see where it leads to now in Poland, in Hungary, in Central Europe, I can see where it led to in the past. We have to oppose racism in any form and I do…"

Mr Justice Saini pointed to reports in the Times on August 25 2018, which named Mr Millett as the man "who prompted Jeremy Corbyn's attack on Zionists as unable to understand English irony" and included his picture.

A further article in the Guardian on August 24 had again stated: "One of the activists Corbyn apparently referred to in his remarks, Richard Millett, told the Times . . . "

Justice Saini said: "In my judgment, a reasonable reader in possession of this knowledge would reasonably have concluded when watching the programme that Mr Millett was one of 'the two people' accused by Mr Corbyn.”

He also rejected Mr Corbyn’s argument that by the time of his Marr appearance “memories would have faded”.

But he refused permission to allow Mr Millett to amend his claim against Mr Corbyn, by submitting an additional five articles in which the “English irony” speech was discussed.

Assessing the meaning and the seriousness of the claim of defamation, Justice Saini said “it was submitted by Leading Counsel for Mr Millett that to accuse someone of being disruptive and abusive to the degree in issue must have caused him to have been defamed at common law.”

But he added: “On behalf of Mr Corbyn it was forcefully argued by his Leading Counsel that the Statement did not lower Mr Millett in the estimation of right thinking people and, separately, that it fell below the common law threshold of seriousness.”

On the issue of defamatory tendency he wrote “of the principal point made on behalf of Mr Corbyn was that a viewer of the interview as a whole, including questions and answers, would not gain an impression from the exchanges between Mr Corbyn and Mr Marr that the point of the discussion was that the attendees' conduct was criminal or immoral or the like, as opposed to, in Mr Corbyn's view, conduct that merited him "say[ing]" something in support" of Mr Hassassian (which was the extent of his response to it).”

Justice Saini also stated: “It was also submitted to me that many on a different part of the spectrum would applaud disruptive contributions at pro-Palestine meetings. It was said that the point applies to heated disputes generally, not just the antisemitism and Israel/Palestine disputes. In this regard, reference was made to another very public dispute in the country and in the Labour Party over trans rights.”

The case can now proceed to trial.


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