On 28 February 2023, the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in Arron Banks’ high profile libel claim against journalist and activist Carole Cadwalladr. 4 New Square Chambers’ Ben Williams KC acted for the successful appellant, Arron Banks.
Cadwalladr had made widely publicised allegations that Banks had secretly received Russian money in connection with the Brexit referendum and had dishonestly broken electoral laws. Cadwalladr ultimately did not contend the allegations were true, but asserted a public interest defence. At trial, Steyn J found the public interest defence established for an initial period of publication, but that it was lost once the National Crime Agency and Electoral Commission had rejected the allegations against Banks. However, she found that Banks failed to establish that he had suffered any “serious harm” from the post-defence publication of Cadwalladr’s allegations, as she made them to “her echo chamber” which consisted of people whose opinion “was of no consequence” to Banks.
The Court of Appeal found that that the judge was right to require Banks to demonstrate “serious harm” after the expiry of the defence. But, allowing the appeal, it held that she was plainly wrong to find that serious harm had not been established for the continued mass publication of a grave and false allegation against Banks once any public interest defence was lost. There was no evidential basis for the judge’s conclusion that Cadwalladr only broadcast to an “echo chamber” of people who already agreed with her, and nor was it open to the judge to conclude that asserting “serious repeated dishonesty… about a secret relationship… with a potentially hostile foreign power” to “at least 100,000” viewers was inconsequential to a highly prominent public and business figure like Arron Banks.
The appeal was therefore allowed, and directions will be given for damages to be assessed.
Read the full judgment here.