In the Media


PUBLISHED August 24, 2014

Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd: Queen's Bench Division: 28 July 2014

Pre-trial or post-judgment relief - Case management conference - Two libel actions arising out of incident at Downing Street when claimant was chief whip of Conservative Party - Parties making proposals regarding joint preliminary issues - Whether there was to be joint trial of certain preliminary issues in actions

In September 2012, as the claimant, then chief whip of the Conservative Party, was leaving Downing Street with his bicycle there was an altercation between him and police officers manning the gates. One of those officers was PC TR.

That incident and allegations about exactly what occurred gave rise to very extensive publicity, the resignation of the claimant from his post as chief whip, the criminal conviction of one officer for misconduct in public office, disciplinary proceedings leading to the dismissal of three other officers, and the two libel actions which came before the court for decisions as to case management. One of those libel actions was brought by the claimant against the publishers of the defendant, News Group Newspapers Ltd. The other was brought by PC TR against the claimant.

In a case management conference, the issue of whether a trial should be by judge alone or jury arose as did the possibility of ordering preliminary issues. The issue of whether a matter should be by judge or jury was governed by section 69 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. There was a great deal of overlap between the issues in the two actions. At the heart of each action was the issue of what was said by the claimant at the Downing Street gates on the evening of 19 September 2012.

It was proposed by the parties that the action should be tried by a judge sitting without a jury, and that there should be a joint trial of certain preliminary issues in the actions. The preliminary issues proposed by both parties were: (i) the meaning of the words complained of in the particulars of claim in both actions; (ii) the justification defences pleaded by the defendants in both actions; (iii) the issue pleaded in paragraph 37.4 of the particulars of claim in Rowland v Mitchell [2014] All ER (D) 273 (Mar).

The court ruled: the court approved the approach proposed by the parties. It would be ordered that the actions should be tried by a judge sitting without a jury, and that there should be a joint trial the preliminary issues suggested. The proposal met the important objectives of avoiding inconsistent findings and duplication and the issues encapsulated, in a sufficiently clear and well-defined way, issues the determination of which stood a reasonable chance of resolving the disputes between the parties and thereby saving resources.

The court also had in mind the public interest in focusing resources on ascertaining the truth of the allegations and counter-allegations about those events which had attracted so much publicity, involving as they had done, a senior politician and a police officer (see [14], [15] of the judgment).

The order would be made in substantially the terms of a draft order which had been largely agreed between the parties in advance of the hearing (see [2] of the judgment).

Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd; Rowland v Mitchell [2014] All ER (D) 273 (Mar) applied.

Gavin Millar QC and Adam Wolanski (instructed by Simons Muirhead and Burton) for the defendant in claim no. HQ13D01052; Catrin Evans (instructed by Slater and Gordon LLP) for the claimant in claim no HQ13D05940; James Price QC (instructed by Atkins Thomson) for the caimant in claim no. HQ13D01052 and the defendant in claim no. HQ13D05940.

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