Thomas Sheridan v News Group Newspapers Limited

Summary of Opinion issued by Lady Paton, Lord Drummond Young & Lord McGhie

19 August 2016

In a recent case in the Court of Session, News Group Newspapers Limited (NGN) sought to set aside the award of damages for defamation which a civil jury made in favour of Mr Sheridan in 2006. In their application for a new trial, NGN argued first, that the existing civil jury's verdict was unsafe, as Mr Sheridan had subsequently been convicted of perjury, and a fresh investigation into the facts was "essential to the justice of the cause". Secondly, the verdict was contrary to the evidence, as without that perjured evidence, Mr Sheridan would not have won. And thirdly, three new matters had emerged since the civil jury trial, namely the criminal perjury conviction, a video-tape in which Mr Sheridan appeared to admit matters which he had denied at the civil trial, and an affidavit from a woman who claimed to have had a sexual affair with Mr Sheridan both before and after his marriage.

In a judgment issued today, the Court of Session refused to grant NGN's application. It was noted that the verdict of a civil jury should be treated with considerable respect. Current social standards were very much a jury question. The jurors had heard and seen all the witnesses and the written evidence, and were the judges of the facts, deciding questions of credibility and reliability. The jurors would apply the directions in law given by the trial judge. Those directions included an instruction that if the jury found that some (but not all) of the allegations made against Mr Sheridan were proved, they still had to assess whether the unproved and unsubstantiated allegations materially injured Mr Sheridan's reputation. Thus it was open to the jury to disbelieve some of Mr Sheridan's evidence, to find certain evidence led on behalf of NGN established, yet still to conclude that Mr Sheridan had been defamed. Several lines or routes of reasoning had been open to the civil jury, at least one of which was not undermined by the perjury conviction or by the three new items relied upon by NGN. The court could not confidently assert that the jury had not adopted that particular route. Accordingly, even taking into account all the matters founded upon by NGN, the court was unable to conclude that NGN had demonstrated that a new trial was "essential to the justice of the cause". In that context, the court felt that certain material (unproved), which seemed to demonstrate unacceptable and possibly illegal conduct on the part of NGN's staff, should not be ignored.

In the result, the civil jury's verdict and assessment of damages remain unaltered.

The full Opinion will be available at midday.

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