Split trial granted in complex libel claim against Associated Newspapers


Re: Harcombe & Anor v Associated Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2022] EWHC 543 (QB)

The Claimants in this case, who are a PhD nutritionist and medical doctor, are suing for libel over articles in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline which they claim accuse them of deliberately spreading false information as to the efficacy and safety of the prescription drug statins. This was an application by the Defendants for a split trial whereby defences of s.4 (public interest) of the Defamation Act 2013, statutory qualified privilege, malice and meaning would be heard at Trial 1 and (if arising) truth or honest opinion at Trial 2.  Nicklin J granted the application and split the trial.  Although the circumstances were uncommon – specifically the obstacle to an early trial of meaning created by the Court of Appeal decision of Curistan v Times Newspapers – this judgment provides some useful pointers about when it might be appropriate to make such an order (and when not) and as to the problems thrown up by Curistan post the 2013 Defamation Act.


Catrin Evans QC was involved in this case.