A High Court judge, Mr Justice Saini, has ruled that statements made by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the Andrew Marr programme in September 2018 could be held to be defamatory of the pro-Israel activist Richard Millett. The ruling means that the case can proceed to a full libel trial.
The case refers to comments made by Mr Corbyn when Andrew Marr asked him about previous remarks he had made about “Zionists” who, he believed, “do not understand English irony”.
At a preliminary hearing on June 23, Mr Justice Saini was asked to determine whether the meaning of Mr Corbyn’s remarks on the show justified a libel action.
Andrew Marr had asked Mr Corbyn about a 2013 speech he had made at a meeting convened by the Palestinian Return Centre. There he had commented on an event in Parliament days earlier, where the guest speaker was the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian.
At the PRC event Mr Corbyn complained that some present at the meeting in Parliament were “thankfully silent Zionists” who had behaved in a “very, very abusive manner” towards Mr Hassassian.
He added 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 his nine-part judgement, delivered on Friday morning, the judge said: “I find that the words complained of referred to Mr Millett; that they bore a meaning defamatory of Mr Millett as identified above; and I find that the allegations were factual”. He said it was reasonable to conclude that Mr Corbyn’s comments referred to Mr Millett, even though he was not identified by name.
But he refused permission to Mr Millett to amend his claim against Mr Corbyn, by submitting an additional five articles in which the “English irony” speech was discussed.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Saini said, the original five articles referring to Mr Corbyn’s speech, all of which had appeared just a month before the Andrew Marr broadcast, would allow “a reasonable reader when watching the programme to conclude that Mr Millett was one of the ‘two people’ accused by Mr Corbyn. I do not consider memories would have faded. Overall I conclude that Mr Millett’s case has been made out on the basis of the original articles before me”.
Richard Millett’s lawyer, Mark Lewis, said: “The judge rejected the argument that Jeremy Corbyn was not referring to Richard Millett when he defended his ‘irony statement’ on the Andrew Marr programme. The case can now proceed to trial.”