Thursday 6 June 2013

Libel News

It's taken a while, but the legal system has finally presented the bill for the libel case involving blogger Jacqui Thompson and Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council. You can read Jacqui's statement about it here.

There were two parts to the case: the action brought by Jacqui against the chief executive over comments he made in a letter he wrote to the Madaxeman blog, and a counterclaim brought by Mr James against Jacqui. The costs were £190,000 and £41,000 for these two actions respectively. In addition, Jacqui has been ordered to pay £25,000 in damages to Mr James personally.

All told, that's just over £250,000, an amount which exceeds the value of the smallholding where Jacqui and her family live.

It took more than a year for the case to come to court, and as Jacqui says, in the first few months the hope and expectation was that the two parties would reach a settlement. That opportunity was lost.

The bombshell comes at the end of Jacqui's statement where she reveals that her insurers used the wording of the judgement to withdraw their cover. The entire £250,000 therefore falls on Jacqui and her family, who the judge noted were of very modest means.

Where this leaves the council is not clear. What is known is that the council's own insurance was invoked to meet the cost of the defence, while the council funded the counterclaim action directly. Whatever happens, the result will be a black hole for the council's tax payers, while Jacqui and her family face the prospect of being made homeless by the council, which would then have to rehouse them.

In his many interviews and articles since the judgment was handed down, Mr James has described this as an important victory for local government. Pyrrhic would be more apt. Wiser councils, particularly councils which are run by elected councillors rather than unelected officials, will certainly think twice before following the route Mr James took Carmarthenshire down.

The legal construct which the county council used to bring its counterclaim could and should have been challenged by the Welsh Government, which chose to sit on the sidelines wringing its hands.

The manner in which the council funded the counterclaim was, bizarrely, one of the key features of Mr James's case against Jacqui. The judge found Jacqui's description of the arrangement whereby Carmarthenshire County Council changed its constitution to enable council officers and members to dip into taxpayers funds to bring libel actions to be libellous.

Jacqui's lawyers are now seeking leave to appeal the judgement, and we wish her every success.


Anonymous said...

So, if Jacqui Thompson had been successful, Carmarthenshire taxpayers would have had to have forked out £250,000 for the Chief Executive's legal expenses? Disgraceful.

Anonymous said...

Mark James, could and should have settled this amicably from the outset. It was unnecessary for Mark James to counter-sue. He had every opportunity to do so. He had no right to risk taxpayers money. He should have used his own. I think had that been the case the outcome would have been very different.

Anonymous said...

Mark James is like one of those peevish little boys at school - we probably all remember one - who never liked to give in gracefully and always wanted to win. Never realising that their behaviour made them odd and that as a consequence no-one wanted to know them.
I always wonederd what happened to kids like that when they grew up and now I know.
Good luck to Jackie Thompson.

Patricia B. said...

I'm sure most reasonable people would say that Mark James had every opportunity to enter into discussions with Ms. Thompson's legal team bringing this to a satisfactory conclusion without entering into costly litigation, and as a Chief Executive of a council with the potential of costing the taxpayer an inordinate amount of money, this was most certainly the more professional and constructive way forward.
It is also becoming ever more obvious that he is using every opportunity to repeat the judgement in whole, publicly, which accuses Ms. Thompson of waging a vendetta and more, suggesting to me at least, an unwholesome enjoyment of his victory. If he continues giving interviews, repeating the Judge's comments in full, it makes one wonder who is actually waging a vendetta. In his position as a CEO following his initial victory statement, he should now be maintaining a dignified silence not displaying gratuitous self satisfaction. I believe a lot of people would agree that it is more befitting for a CEO of a council to cease repeating the judgement at every opportune moment, and to show some humility, especially as Ms. Thompson might now lose her home.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

No-one would have believed even Franz Kafka if he'd dreamed up a tale like this one.

You rely on your insurers, only for them to weasel out of their promises. Your house is taken by your persecutors, only for them to rehouse you.

"Previously I did not understand why I got no answer to my question; today I do not understand how I could believe I was capable of asking. But I didn’t really believe, I only asked."

Anonymous said...

the 'amicable' out of court settlement was that Mark James pay her compensation. She had a no win no fee lawyer and tried to sue him for a 'liabelous comment' while defending her own comments as freedom of speech. It was never going to work adn she was always on to a loser. If he had started the legal proceedings against her, and he had lost his claim and her counterclaim, we'd all be saying what a just cause it was.
can we please remember a simple fact: SHE SUED HIM

Anonymous said...

"SHE SUED HIM" - because he wouldn't retract.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 11:58 can you remember a simple fact? Mark James used taxpayers money to counterclaim!!!!

Anonymous said...

My own thoughts on this :

Anonymous said...

Well said madaxeman!