A newspaper has challenged a High Court ruling that author JK Rowling should be allowed to read a unilateral statement in open court as part of the settlement of a libel claim.
Associated Newspapers does not dispute that she is entitled to such a move - where the claimant alone makes a statement – but objects to a number of terms in the proposed draft.
Rowling, who brought the action over a September 2013 story in the Daily Mail and MailOnline about her account of her time as a single mother in Scotland, was not at the Court of Appeal in London for today’s hearing.
Associated’s counsel, Andrew Caldecott QC, told Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Ryder and Lady Justice Sharp that Mr Justice Tugendhat’s ruling, in April last year, was a “most unsatisfactory precedent” and one, which if generally followed, would create difficulties for the offer of amends regime.
This procedure provides for a defendant to make an open offer to pay costs and damages with an apology – with the aim of bringing a speedy end to litigation in cases where a defendant has unintentionally made statements which it admits to be untrue.
If the offer is not accepted, the claimant may only recover damages through the courts if it can prove malice on the part of the defendant.
Mr Caldecott said: “Although this appeal raises important issues, it in no way seeks to dilute or qualify the published apologies to Ms Rowling which she was properly and rightly entitled to.”
The apology, which appeared both online and in the hard copy of the newspaper, was part of an unqualified offer of amends, which was accepted by Rowling in January 2014. Compensation has also been agreed.
Mr Caldecott said that the whole purpose of a statement in open court was to attract wide publicity, which made it the more important that the statement was confined to, and accurately reflected, the pleaded claim.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, for Rowling, said that the appeal did not, as claimed, raise any important issue of principle or practice in defamation law, but was plainly misconceived and an “exercise in nit-picking”.
He said that only rarely should a defendant be permitted to dictate to a claimant what she was permitted to say in a statement in open court.
It was primarily a matter between the court and the party wishing to make a statement, and the proper arbiter of what was acceptable in a unilateral statement was the judge.
The judges are expected to reserve their decision to a later date.