Yesterday was the final day of the high profile libel trial in which Brexit supporting millionaire Arron Banks is suing investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr for a libel arising out of a 2018 Ted Talk. The case of Banks v Cadwalladr has been heard over 5 days in Court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice by Mrs Justice Steyn.
Leading Counsel for Mr Banks, William McCormick QC, argued that Ms Cadwalladr had failed to exercise proper journalistic standards. He said for her to claim she had never intended to suggest Banks had received Russian money to fund the Brexit campaign was “unreal” and described references to a covert relationship as “ridiculous”
“What we’ve got is rambling statements by Cadwalladr ranging far and wide to justify naming [Mr Banks] …there has not been any sufficient evidence that this was in the public interest. She has an inability to properly reason her sources, an inability to maintain balance”.
He told the court that although Ms Cadwalladr had accepted the court’s interpretation of the meaning of the words in the Ted Talk, she had failed to take steps to have the offending words removed or the video footnoted. He said that, in this situation there was nothing else that Mr Banks could do “but seek the court’s assistance to have the situation remedied”.
Mr McCormick argued that the threshold of serious harm had been met in terms of damage to Mr Banks’ reputation, as the Ted Talk had been viewed by a new audience who were not likely (or less likely) to have heard about the allegations Mr Banks.
In his closing submissions Gavin Millar QC for Ms Cadwalladr argued that the TED talk under question was not about Mr Banks. The only reference to him was in that line, which was a “throwaway line”. The allegation made was not a grave one. It was not a personal comment nor was it a criminal allegation towards the claimant. Made with regard to Mr. Banks as a high profile political figure.
He described Ms Cadwalladr’s her reporting on the “covert relationship” between Mr Banks and the Russian government as being of the greatest public interest imaginable. He said that Mr Banks and his associated, Andy Wigmore, had given “contradictory and misleading accounts about …[Banks’s] meetings with Russian officials and the extent of his relationship with the Russian state”.
Although Mr Banks’ counsel had pointed to minor inaccuracies in Ms Cadwalladr’s witness statement these were irrelevant because they had nothing to do with the TED talk and Ms. Cadwalladr’s state of mind when she gave it.
Mr Millar repeated the argument that this was a “SLAPP” case and had a ‘chilling effect’ on journalists.
He argued that the fact that the Court had, at an earlier hearing, determined a different meaning of the words complained of from that which Ms Cadwalladr believed them to bear did not render her belief as to what they meant unreasonable. The defamatory single meaning found was not what Ms. Cadwalladr intended. She was happy to apologise for that meaning because that was not what she intended.
Mr Millar also argued that Mr Banks could not show that the publication had caused “serious harm to his reputation” as required by section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 because he had “a generally bad reputation in respect of the sector of his life with which this claim is concerned, namely his role as a funder/leader of Leave.EU”. There was no evidence of impact andno witness evidence that those who viewed TED talk had a worse idea of Mr Banks having heard that one line in the talk.
Mrs Justice Steyn reserved judgment and will deliver it at a later date.