Parliamentary privilege considered in pre-trial review in former MP’s libel action


Re: Yeo v Times Newspapers [2015] EWHC 2132 (QB)

This judgment dealt with a number of issues that arose during a pre-trial review of libel action taken by the claimant in relation to articles published in June 2013. The articles emerged from an under cover investigation by two journalists employed by the defendant, and alleged that the claimant, a former MP, was abusing his position for personal financial gain. The Court addressed issues surrounding Parliamentary Privilege, an application by the defendants to have certain particulars of the claim struck out ,and the claimant’s costs application.

The claimant invited the Court to establish general ground rules in relation to how Parliamentary Privilege should apply to the materials relied on. However, the defendant argued that Parliamentary Privilege did not arise in relation to most of the statements complained of, as they did not relate to collective deliberation and decision-making which were central to parliamentary business. In addition, the defendant argued that journalists could not be precluded from expressing opinions on parliamentary conduct or defending libel actions by Parliamentary Privilege. Such a conclusion would be a violation of the right to a fair trial and a disproportionate interference with free speech.

The Court refused to establish general ground rules in relation to Parliamentary Privilege, accepting the defendant’s argument that the details of the statements made were vitally important, and that broad propositions would be unsuitable. The Court held that if the claimant wanted to challenge statements on the grounds of Parliamentary Privilege, he would have to precisely identify the passages that were problematic and explain the reasons supporting this conclusion.

The Court also refused the defendant’s application to strikeout complaints in relation to a particular article, as the complaints were not considered to be a fanciful and had the potential to succeed on inference.

Finally, the Court rejected the argument that the raising of the Parliamentary Privilege issue warranted an increase in the approved budget, and held that it did not amount to a significant development in litigation that would lead to the court sanctioning a budget amendment.

Gavin Millar QC & Ben Silverstone were involved in this case.