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Jeremy Corbyn set to give evidence at High Court trial after libel claim

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to give evidence at a three-week High Court trial later this year after being accused of libel by a political blogger, a judge has been told (PA)
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to give evidence at a three-week High Court trial later this year after being accused of libel by a political blogger, a judge has been told (PA)

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to give evidence at a three-week High Court trial after being accused of libel by a political blogger, a judge has been told.

Richard Millett has sued Mr Corbyn over remarks he made during an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show in 2018, when he was leader of the opposition.

Mr Justice Nicklin considered pre-trial issues at a High Court hearing in London on Monday.

Corbyn Libel Trial
A view of the main hall at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, where a judge is due to oversee a trial after Jeremy Corbyn was sued for libel (PA)

Lawyers representing Mr Corbyn, who is fighting the claim, said 41 people, including Mr Corbyn and Mr Millett, could give evidence.

William McCormick QC, who is leading Mr Corbyn’s legal team, said Mr Corbyn was relying on 32 witnesses, plus himself, and Mr Millett on seven, plus himself.

In a written case outline, he said Mr Corbyn was mounting a “truth defence” against allegations made by Mr Millett.

Mr Justice Nicklin is due to begin overseeing the trial on October 10.

Lawyers estimate the trial will last 15 days.

The judge told lawyers he will not let the trial turn into “some sort of showpiece”.

“There is the capacity for this to spin into all manner of satellite issues,” he said.

“This trial is not going to turn into some sort of showpiece.

“Sometimes there is a tendency for the settling of scores about issues that are not relevant to the litigation.”

He added: “That will not be taking place in this trial.”

Mr Millett attended Monday’s hearing via a remote link.

Mr Corbyn did not attend.

Detail of the claim emerged at earlier hearings.

During the interview, Mr Corbyn was asked if he was an antisemite and shown a recording of a speech he made in 2013 in which he referred to “Zionists” who “don’t understand English irony”, judges have heard.

In response, Mr Corbyn referred to two people having been “incredibly disruptive” and “very abusive” at a meeting in the House of Commons the same year, at which Manuel Hassassian – then Palestinian ambassador to the UK – was speaking.

Mr Millett’s argues that, although he was not named by Mr Corbyn, he was defamed because national media coverage before the broadcast made him identifiable to viewers as one of those referred to.

Mr Corbyn says he was defending himself against allegations of antisemitism when he made the comments.

Another judge made rulings on preliminary issues at an earlier stage of the litigation.

Mr Justice Saini made a decision on the “natural and ordinary meaning” of the words complained of by Mr Millett and found that they referred to him.

The judge found the meaning of the words included that Mr Millett had been “so disruptive” that police wished to remove him from the premises, that he had acted in a disruptive way at other meetings and that Mr Hassassian was “caused distress” by his behaviour.

He also concluded that the remarks were a “statement of fact”, rather than opinion, and were defamatory of Mr Millett at common law.

Mr Corbyn challenged some of the judge’s findings at a Court of Appeal hearing  – but appeal judges dismissed his challenge.