By Tracey McIver
Two high profile judgements passed on the same day have both been awarded six-figure damages arguably setting a new benchmark in serious libel cases.
The activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson has been ordered to pay £100,000 in libel damages to Jamal Hijazi, a Syrian schoolboy, at the High Court. The Honourable Mr Justice Nicklin wasn’t convinced by Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s arguments and also reportedly ordered him to pay the legal costs for the case amounting to approximately £500,000.
The Supreme Court also passed a judgement in the Lachaux v Independent and Evening Standard case awarding Mr Lachaux £120,000 in damages against two major British newspapers.
A video of Mr Hijazi being pushed to the ground and having a bottle of water poured on his head in the playground in Huddersfield went viral in October 2018.
In response to this video, Mr Yaxley-Lennon published two Facebook videos claiming that Mr Hijazi was not an innocent party and that he “violently attacks young English girls in his school”.
These allegations were strongly denied by Mr Hijazi, and he claimed that Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s videos led to further abuse of him and his family forcing them to leave their home for their own safety.
Mr Yaxley-Lennon represented himself at the hearing, his defence being entirely centred on proving that his allegations against Mr Hijazi were true.
He failed in his attempt, however, and the judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Nickin, found his arguments unconvincing and the language in his videos purposefully “calculated to inflame the situation”.
The judge ruled unequivocally in Mr Hijazi’s favour awarding £100,000 in damages.
This seems to be a fairly high award for an individual who was not widely known of, until the aforesaid events, and thus may be an indication of higher awards in the future for ordinary people (for want of a better expression). Mr Lennon’s behaviour may have been deemed an aggravating factor.
The final decision and award in favour of Mr Lachaux against The Independent and Evening Standard newspapers were seven years in the making.
The defence mounted by both publications was based on s.4 of the Defamation Act 2013 claiming that the articles were a matter of public interest.
Both papers managed to satisfy the requirements of their articles being a matter of public interest, but both failed on the further stages of the public interest test. Notably, for The Independent, this was down to the relevant editor not believing that the publication of the article was in the public interest.
For the Evening Standard, they passed the belief test but the judge concluded that this belief was not reasonable given the circumstances.
The judge found in favour of Mr Lachaux and awarded him £50,000 in damages against The Independent and £70,000 in damages against the Evening Standard. The judge also granted an injunction under s.12 of the Defamation Act 2013 ordering both newspapers to print and publish a summary of the judgement.
It was a long road for Mr Lachaux which saw him at the Court of Appeal in 2017 and the Supreme Court in 2019, before finally getting the judgement he had been waiting for in 2021.
Both of these cases potentially set a new benchmark for libel compensation and, at the very least, show a definite intention from the new head of Media and Communications List, The Honourable Mr Justice Nickin, to take a firm hand in these cases.
We wait to see what comes next…