Sheridan v News Group Newspapers 3/11/17
Court of Session Outer House
Before Lord Turnbull
For Sheridan: Gordon Dangerfield
For NGN: Rodney Dunlop QC
Proceedings resumed with counsel for Sheridan, Gordon Dangerfield telling the courtbhe had concluded his submissions Mr Dunlop QC then rose to present the case for News Group Newspapers.
The QC opened by informing the court that the sum of £200,000 in damages for defamation had been paid to Mr Sheridan in May 2017.
However he argued that no interest should be automatically added to this sum, originally awarded in 2006, as this was not a personal injury case where this was the rule. Various precedents were cited to argue that this was purely a matter of the judges discretion.
Dunlop asked the court to consider that interest was usually only awarded in a legal case if there was “a wrongful witholding of a debt.” News Group, he said, had merely exercised their legitimate right to appeal the verdict. This, he suggested, could not be described as wrongful withholding as there were no “improper proceedings” by his client only an exercise of their legal right.
Various precedents were presented to the court to support this view. Lord Turnbull noted that in one of these precedents, a defamation case against the BBC, interest was awarded from the date of the original offence, not from the day of the judgment. Dunlop said this showed the issue was still one of judge’s discretion arguing again that a delay in payment due to a lawful appeal could not be regarded as frivolous or unreasonable.
Lord Turnbull then asked counsel if his position was that no interest at all would be due on the 2006 award. Dunlop replied that he would accept that interest may be due for the “few weeks” between the final decision and the payment, but otherwise no, as even Sheridan’s counsel accepted that News Group’s appeal was not frivolous given the circumstances of the case.
Dunlop continued by suggesting the 11 year delay between the award and the payment “was because Mr Sheridan committed perjury,” and then appealed his conviction. He also noted that another reason for delay was the prosecution of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson for alleged perjury at Sheridan’s perjury trial. None of this, he argued, could be blamed on his client, News Group Newspapers.
Dunlop continued “Mr Sheridan has emerged from this with £200,000 in damages” the highest award ever in Scotland, adding “considering he committed perjury he might consider himself lucky.” This case, he said was an attempt to “double your money” which should be rejected.
Dunlop also noted that the proposed 8% judicial interest rate was “penal” given current national interest rates and recent awards have been more in the region of 4%.
Lord Turnbull then asked Counsel about the precedent from other cases of interest being awarded from the date of publication of the defamatory article. Dunlop accepted that “it’s all up for grabs” but argued that interest could only be awarded for issues that happened in the past, and there was no way to know which portion of the £200k was awarded by the jury in 2006 for past damage, and how much for future harm.
The QC then moved on to the issue of legal costs. Dunlop said that while the usual principle was that the winner of a legal action received their costs from the loser, this was still a matter for the judge’s discretion.
Dunlop suggested to the court that Sheridan had brought the defamation action on a false premise, that he knew to be false and had “lied to the jury,” and “falsely accused others of lying.”
On the issue of misconduct by News Group employees Mr Dunlop said he would make no effort to defend it, suggesting “both parties were, frankly, as bad as each other.” He suggested that the just outcome would be for both sides to pay their own legal costs.
Counsel concluded by saying phone hacking was irrelevant to the issue of legal costs because, despite it, and despite the “spiriting away of Fiona McGuire” he [Sheridan] had won his case. He also noted that while these were “disgraceful actions” none of the people involved still worked for News Group Newspapers making punishing the company through legal costs “unreasonable.”
Responding for Sheridan Mr Dangerfield said News Group had “perverted the course of justice before the trial, during the trial and after the trial,” and asked for expenses and interest to be awarded.
Lord Turnbull reserved his decision for a future date and court adjourned.