United Kingdom

Supreme Court orders retrial of libel case after judges' 'barrage of hostility'

The Supreme Court has ordered a retrial of a long running libel case after finding that the presiding judge, who was the leading counsel during the Leveson Inquiry, “harassed and intimidated” an unrepresented claimant.

Mr Justice Jay, 60, rose to prominence during the public inquiry into phone-hacking in 2011, where he developed a reputation for his insistent methods of questioning.

Five Supreme Court justices today unanimously agreed that the “hostility” he showed towards Jan Serafin, 68, during a defamation trial warranted a re-hearing as he had not allowed the case to be properly presented.

Mr Serafin, who ran a cafe in a Polish community centre in Hammersmith, west-London, originally sued the editors and publishers of the Polish-language monthly magazine Nowy Czas for libel in 2015.

He said the article, headlined 'Bankruptcy need not be painful', had 13 separate defamatory meanings, including that he had abused his position to award himself or his company contracts for maintenance work.

Following a week-long trial in 2017, Mr Justice Jay dismissed the claim, saying there was a public interest in the newspapers printing the article.

However, Mr Serafin successfully appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal, arguing that during the trial the judge had  “showed hostility and rudeness” towards him.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision, concluding: “When one considers the barrage of hostility towards the claimant's case, and towards the claimant himself acting in person, fired by the judge in immoderate, ill-tempered and at times offensive language at many different points during the long hearing, one is driven, with profound regret, to uphold the Court of Appeal's conclusion that he did not allow the claim to be properly presented; that therefore he could not fairly appraise it; and, that, in short, the trial was unfair.”

Lord Wilson, who delivered the judgement, added it was important to remember there were “long stretches of evidence” in respect of which no criticism could be made of Mr Justice Jay.

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