Laurence Fox has failed in his bid to get his libel trial heard by a jury, in what would have been the first libel case heard jury in a decade.
A judge rejected the actor and right-wing political activist’s argument that Fox would not get a fair hearing as judges hearing the case may suffer from “involuntary bias” due to the “expansive definition” of racism adopted by the Judicial College last year.
The case comes after the ex-London mayoral candidate sued RuPaul’s Drag Race star Crystal, Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp, and former Stonewall vice chair Simon Blake, for calling him racist. Fox’s claim came after the trio initially sued the actor himself for libel, for calling them “peadophiles”.
Fox had asked permission for a jury to hear his case, after arguing the definition adopted by the Judicial College “does not reflect the way ordinary people use the word.”
The judge however rejected Fox’s argument as he said “no fair-minded and informed observer could conclude that there was a real possibility that the judge who ultimately tries this case would be involuntarily, but institutionally, biased because of the definition of ‘racism’ used,” according to the Law Society Gazette.
The last libel case to heard by a jury came after comedian Frankie Boyle won a £54,650 payout after he successfully sued the Daily Mirror, for calling him a “racist comedian” in 2012.
The introduction of the Defamation Act in 2013 later changed the law to ensure most libel cases are heard by only a judge.
Laurence Fox said: “I am disappointed that the court has not ruled there should be a jury trial. I believed this was an ideal case for a jury to sit, especially considering the emotive and zeitgeist issues in play.”
“I think this places any trial judge in the invidious position of having to define ‘racism’ in the 21st century, where I am asking that judge to adopt a common-sense definition completely at odds with the Equal Treatment Bench Book, a document which dictates to judges to think about ‘racism’ in a particular way and act accordingly in their courts every single day. Nonetheless, I fight on and am confident justice will be served.”
Emily Cox, head of media disputes at law firm Stewarts, said: “It is unsurprising that Laurence Fox’s bid for a jury trial failed, given his application required the court to agree there would be a real risk of involuntary bias by any judge in the land.”
“Fox is however not wrong that jury trials can result in surprise verdicts. He may have hoped for an outcome in a jury trial based on gut reactions rather than legal analysis.”