Permission to plead a public interest defence refused in Tommy Robinson libel case


Re: Hijazi v Yaxley-Lennon [2020] EWHC 3058 (QB)

This judgment relates to a libel claim brought by a Syrian refugee schoolboy against far right activist Tommy Robinson, for comments made online after a video of the schoolboy being pushed to the ground and threatened with drowning provoked an outpouring of public sympathy. Tommy Robinson then posted two videos online making very serious allegations against the schoolboy.

This judgment considered the Defendant’s application to amend his defence to include a public interest defence and to amend his particulars of truth.

Nicklin J refused the application for permission to plead a public interest defence under section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013. The particulars failed to respect the line between the subjective belief of the Defendant and objective truth. They also failed to particularise steps taken to investigate matters before publication of the videos. The Court was very far from satisfied that the Defendant had provided an adequate explanation for why he did not include a public interest defence in his original Defence. The evidence before the Court was capable of supporting a conclusion that the Defendant made a conscious and deliberate tactical decision not to include such a defence and the decision to include it now comes perilously close to the old-fashioned notion of “overreaching”.

Nicklin J granted the Defendant permission to make minor amendments to his particulars of truth.

The judgment provides useful clarity on how a public interest defence ought to be pleaded.

Emma Foubister and Ian Helme were involved in this case.