Laurence Fox requests jury trial for libel battle

Laurence Fox requests jury trial for libel battle: Lawyers say High Court judge might show ‘involuntary bias’ in deciding if actor was ‘racist’ as he faces legal fight with three people he called ‘paedophiles’ on Twitter

  • Actor being sued by Simon Blake, Nicola Thorp & Crystal over social media row
  • In turn, Mr Fox is counter-suing the trio over tweets accusing him of racism
  • Barristers today requested that the hearing be decided by a jury not a judge 

Laurence Fox’s lawyers have requested a rare jury trial for the actor’s libel battle, claiming a High Court judge might show ‘involuntary bias’ in deciding if he was ‘racist’ in his legal fight with three people he branded ‘paedophiles’.

The actor is being sued by former Stonewall trustee Simon Blake, Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp and drag artist Crystal after he referred to them as paedophiles on Twitter in October 2020.

Fox, who founded the ‘anti-woke’ Reclaim Party and stood as a candidate for Mayor of London last year, is counter-suing the trio over tweets where they accused him of being a racist.

In the UK, jury trials are incredibly rare in defamation and libel cases, which are civil cases.

But barristers acting for the controversial actor asked for the hearing to be decided by a jury, rather than a High Court judge, who might show ‘involuntary bias’, Fox’s legal team claimed.

Jurors should decide what racism is rather than a High Court judge who might be ‘bias’, lawyers acting for Laurence Fox claimed today in his libel spat with three people he branded paedophiles

Mr Fox had accused Sainsbury’s of ‘promoting racial segregation and discrimination’ and promised to boycott the supermarket chain after it promoted Black History Month 

Crystal wrote in response to Mr Fox’s tweet: ‘Imagine being this proud of being a racist! So cringe’

In response to Crystal’s tweet, actor Mr Fox wrote: ‘Says the paedophile’

Actor Mr Fox arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning for the latest hearing in his libel battle

The spat began when the actor called on consumers to boycott Sainsburys after it posted that it had created ‘safe spaces’ for black people and was celebrating Black History Month.

Fox tweeted: ‘I won’t be shopping in your supermarket ever again whilst you promote racial segregation and discrimination.’

The supermarket later told Fox the ‘safe spaces’ were online support groups.

In response Crystal, a former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant whose real name is Colin Munro Seymour, tweeted: ‘Imagine being so proud of being a racist, so cringe!’ to which Fox replied ‘says the paedophile.’

Nicola Thorp said in the online spat: ‘Any company giving future employment to Laurence Fox or providing him with a platform does so with the complete knowledge that he is unequivocally, publicly and undeniably a racist.’

Fox replied: ‘Any company giving future employment to Nicola Thorpe or providing her with a platform does so with the complete knowledge that she is unequivocally, publicly and undeniably a paedophile.’

Simon Blake said: ‘What a mess, what a racist t**t’ to which Fox replied ‘pretty rich coming from a paedophile.’

He later said he regretted calling Fox racist.

Alexandra Marzec, for Mr Fox, told the court that her client was counter-suing to ‘clear his name from the false slur’ of being called racist.

Ms Marzec said that a jury would be better at reaching fair verdicts ‘in light of the cultural and social context of this case’.

She continued: ‘On a question like this, ‘what is a racist?’, a judge is not helped by knowledge of the law, or being a skilled jurist or even high intellectual capacity.

‘He or she is assisted by his or her own life experience and knowledge of the English language.’

The barrister said the jury was also more likely to be diverse than a single High Court judge.

Ms Marzec added: ‘All 12 people pooling their life experience and use of the English language to determine the natural and ordinary meaning of that word… A jury simply would be better at doing that task than one judge.’

She added that the question would not only be relevant if Crystal, Thorpe and Blake defend themselves by saying it is true that Fox is a racist, rather than simply than they honestly thought that at the time.

In a separate thread, Mr Fox found himself in a fiery debate with former Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp after she said Mr Fox was ‘unequivocally, publicly and undeniably a racist’

Mr Fox hit back by copying her statement but changing ‘racist’ for ‘paedophile’

Mr Blake also weighed in, saying: ”What a mess, what a racist t***”’ in comments that he later withdrew 

Mr Fox said back, ‘Pretty rich coming from a paedophile’, prompting Mr Blake to demand he take down the tweet, which he did

The actor sat in court behind his barrister wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt, a green tie and glasses as she made lengthy submissions on his behalf.

She claimed no one in the case, including Fox, is claiming that anyone else is a paedophile.

She said: ‘The counter-claims that my client is a racist persisted. This is not about money.

‘The disparity in the gravity of the claims and counter-claims explain different attitudes to how this claim should be managed.

‘It is well over a year since these claims were made and there has been no reply or defences to the counter-claims.

‘The claimants have persistently refused to serve a reply to the counter-claims.

‘The allegation against the defendant is an allegation of truth that is going to raise the temperature, and this allegation is significant.

‘There has been a gradual shift towards dealing with these cases by a judge alone, but the right to apply for a jury trial has been preserved.

‘There is a risk that in this particular case a judge could show involuntary bias towards one of the parties.

‘A jury would be better able to reach a fair verdict than a judge alone in light of the societal and cultural context of this.

‘The claimants have not set out what they say racism means and we say this is deliberate.

‘My client said having a safe space was a divisive and regressive measure. Racial segregation has been justified on the idea that different races should occupy different spaces.

‘The basis of our application for a jury is that this dispute includes the important question of what racism is.

‘With a jury trial, there would be 12 people from a diverse range of backgrounds who could come to a decision. London is a diverse city and there would have to be people from ethnic minorities.

‘This question is not just relevant if the claimants are making a truth defence. It is the primary question the court must face.

‘The defendant believes the claimants reject the definition of racism he has set out.’

Drag Queen Crystal – who was a contestant on the first season of hit show Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK – confirmed he has filed defamation proceedings against Laurence Fox

Deputy chair of LGBT charity Stonewall Simon Blake (pictured) and Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp are named as claimants

Ms Marzec referred to controversy after Tony Sewell’s report into racial disparities, which was ordered by the government in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests but was criticised by many, as an example of how thorny the question of what constitutes racism is.

The judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, appeared to be sceptical that the case should go before a jury.

He said: ‘Issues like racism, anti-Semitism and nowadays transgender rights are issues which people have very strong views about.

‘You cannot say ‘this is a controversial area’ so you will go to a jury.

‘It is my job as a judge to apply the law fairly between the parties and provide reasoned judgement.

‘What happens by way of criticism is our democracy working as it should.

‘The court is perfectly able to make a decision about the meaning of tweets that are fairly straightforward. The question is what do these words mean applying the law as we know it?

‘We are talking about 12 people being taken out of their daily lives and being asked one of the most difficult and controversial political questions in our lives.

‘You would be saying ‘here is a libel trial, decide what racism is, take your time.’ A judge would also still have to give directions.’

The judge hearing Mr Fox’s bid for a jury trial, Mr Justice Nicklin, has not yet made a ruling on how the trial should be heard.

However, the senior judge said that juries could feature people with ‘real bias or real prejudice towards one or more parties’.

The judge also said that the judge hearing the trial would still be involved in the case, adding that jurors ‘are not going to be left like sheep on an open headland’.

The hearing is due to finish this afternoon with a decision likely to be given at a later date.

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