Jeremy Corbyn May Face Libel Trial
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may face a libel trial after the High Court cleared the way for Jewish blogger Richard Millett to proceed with a libel case brought against him for comments made on the Andrew Marr Show in 2018. Corbyn had argued that his comments were meant to convey “a statement of opinion” but yesterday the appeal judges ruled that were “defamatory.”
Millett was one of a pair of activists whom Corbyn was referring to when he said that “Zionists” have “no sense of English irony” at a speech given in 2013 to the Palestinian Return Centre which caused a lot of offence. Addressing the audience, he complained about the harassment inflicted upon Manuel Hassassian (Ambassador of the Palestinian Authority) at an earlier meeting on the history of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people. Speaking disparagingly, Corbyn claimed:
In 2018, as Labour came under the spotlight for anti-Jewish racism, footage of the speech resurfaced, forcing Corbyn to defend himself against accusations of antisemitism. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show he responded to these and other allegations, and insisted that he was not an antisemite:
In the interview, Corbyn claimed that he had been referring to two people who had been “very, very abusive” to the Palestinian Ambassador and whose “incredibly disruptive” behaviour during the event in the House of Commons almost caused the police “to throw them out of the building.”
Meanwhile, media speculation about the identity of the two alleged “Zionist disrupters” heightened and Richard Millett’s name repeatedly cropped up. Consequently, Millett felt compelled to launch a libel case on the grounds that he was identifiable as one of the two people being referred to in the interview.
Last year, a High Court judge ruled in Millett’s favour when it was established that Corbyn’s words were a “statement of fact” rather than opinion, referred to Millett directly, and were words which could potentially defame his character and obstruct his work as a commentator on matters relating to both Jews in the UK and to Israel.
Corbyn had sought to overturn the High Court’s verdict, but yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier decision:
“…Alleging disruptive behaviour that leads the police to want to remove a person from a public meeting and alleging such verbal abuse of a public speaker that the leader of the opposition was forced to speak up in controversial terms to defend him, crosses the common law threshold of seriousness.
“…The judge was right to hold that such allegations would tend to have a substantial adverse effect on the attitude that people would take to Mr Millett…”
Unless they agree on a private settlement, Richard Millett is now able to pursue a libel case against Jeremy Corbyn.