First stage of libel case brought against Corbyn by Jewish activist adjourns
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First stage of libel case brought against Corbyn by Jewish activist adjourns

Richard Millett pursued legal action with regards to comments by the former Labour leader about 'English irony'

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 2013 meeting, where he made the English irony remarks. Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 2013 meeting, where he made the English irony remarks. Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail

The first stage of a libel case against former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, brought by the Jewish activist Richard Millett, was adjourned on Tuesday so that the judge could consider new submissions from each side’s legal team. 

The libel case relates to an appearance made by Mr Corbyn on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show in September 2018, in which he was asked about the then notorious “English irony” speech which he had made in 2013.

Mr Corbyn had spoken at a meeting convened by the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), in which he commented on an event in Parliament some days previously, where the guest speaker was the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian.

At the PRC event Mr Corbyn complained that those present at the meeting in Parliament were “thankfully silent Zionists” who had behaved in a “very, very abusive manner” towards Mr Hassassian. He claimed that not only did they “not understand history”, but that “they did not understand English irony, either”, despite having lived in Britain for a long time.  

In 2018 footage emerged of Mr Corbyn’s speech and a number of newspapers, including The Times and the Guardian, reported the “English irony” remarks and identified Mr Millett as having been present at the meeting. His picture appeared in The Times and the story of the Corbyn speech and the Hassassian meeting was recorded in Mr Millett’s own blog, and that of the anti-Zionist campaigner, Tony Greenstein.

Four weeks after the stories appeared Mr Corbyn was a guest on the Marr show, and in the words of Mr Millett’s barrister, William Bennett, “doubled down” on his remarks. Mr Corbyn, by this time leader of the Opposition, said that the Zionists to whom he referred had been so “disruptive” that the police wanted to throw them out, but that he had said they should remain.

 On Tuesday a virtual Queen’s Bench court hearing was held before Mr Justice Saini, in order for him to determine whether Mr Corbyn’s comments on the Marr show held the meaning complained of, in order that a libel action could proceed. 

But a late filing of five additional documents — publications which had also reported Mr Corbyn’s comments in August 2018 — led to a dispute between Mr Bennett and Mr Corbyn’s barrister, Anthony Hudson QC. Mr Hudson argued that this additional material — which was only filed last week — should not be considered as part of the original claim by Mr Millett.

Mr Bennett acknowledged “failure” for the late filing. One of the documents in dispute is Tony Greenstein’s blog, a fact which caused the judge to ask “Who is Tony Greenstein?”

After prolonged legal arguments, Mr Justice Saini asked for new written submissions from both barristers. Mr Bennett’s last submission is required by July 8, after which the judge will make his ruling as to what can go forward to trial.

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