Slipping beneath my radar yesterday was this news that the Colin Craig v Cameron Slater defamation case would be a judge-alone trial.
A defamation claim by former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater won’t be heard before a jury.
Mr Craig is suing Slater and co-publisher Social Media Consultants Ltd over 18 statements made on radio, television and on the blog about Mr Craig’s relationship with his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.
Slater is counter-suing Mr Craig for two statements made in a press conference and booklet alleging he and the Whale Oil blog were involved in a campaign to force his resignation from the Conservative Party.
A jury had already been summoned for the trial, which is scheduled to begin on May 8, but Justice Christopher Toogood on Tuesday ordered the case be heard by a judge alone.
Slater had sought a jury hearing, while Mr Craig wanted judge-alone.
In his judgment, Justice Toogood said Mr Craig believed the question trail to assist the jury decide the issues could run as long as 100 pages and “the time, effort and expertise required to follow it should not reasonably be required of a jury”.
But Slater’s barrister Brian Henry said the case was not nearly as complex given the direction on legal matters was not controversial and the facts fell within a narrow compass.
Justice Toogood disagreed.
“Arising out of the allegations, 50 possibly defamatory meanings are asserted,” he said.
“The factual background to each of the publications is extensive.”
He said it would be unreasonable for a jury to work through the complex legal background of the case and ordered it be heard by a judge alone.
This is of particular interest because the decision was released on the same day that Katz J released her judgment in Jordan Williams v Craig that ruled that the jury award of damages was excessive and would amount to a miscarriage of justice. Katz J outlined a number of issues that the jury had had problems with or ignored despite her summing up alerting the jury to them.
Craig has said that he won’t choose to allow Katz J to decide on damages, so the only options for Williams appears to be to walk away from the case, to appeal, or to go to a new trial.
If it goes to a new trial then Craig may apply for judge-alone there too. Given the problems with the jury in the first trial, and the decision to order judge-alone in Craig v Slater, there may not be a jury second time round.
Williams will need to weight these things up when deciding what to do from here.
Craig’s and Slater’s legal teams are likely to be reassessing their approach to their cases now.
The jury in the defamation case Hagamans v Andrew Little had problems deciding on complex legal questions a week ago, resulting in a hung verdict. That case may also go to a second trial.
In that case the judge referred to the difficulties with dealing with the overlapping responsibilities of judge (on law) and jury (on facts) over deciding on whether qualified privilege could apply (judge’s decision) and whether there were sufficient grounds (ill will will or unfair advantage) for qualified privilege to be removed as a defence.