What Is Being Misconstrued About the Banks vs Cadwalladr Case
Sam Bright unpicks the spin surrounding the high-profile defamation judgment
A momentous legal case has seen a judgement today, with political campaigner Arron Banks failing in his libel suit against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, regarding claims about the former’s alleged links to Russia.
The case has taken nearly three years to reach this verdict, which has been accompanied by frenzied online debate about the culpability of those involved.
Today, despite Cadwalladr’s victory, prominent commentators and outlets sympathetic to Banks have suggested that the journalist admitted her falsehoods – thus ultimately, they say, proving her reporting was false and unjustified.
However, this is a misrepresentation of the case.
The judge came to an initial verdict in December 2019 about the meaning (referred to as the ‘single meaning’) of Cadwalladr’s statements – determining that a reasonable person would have understood them to mean that: “On more than one occasion Mr Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian Government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding.”
While the judge decided that this was the implication of Cadwalladr’s remarks, the journalist says that this was not her intention. Below are her original remarks in relation to Banks:
Therefore, given that Cadwalladr was being asked to prove claims that she did not intend to make, she made an apology to that effect, saying: “It was not my intention to make any such allegation and I accept that such an allegation would be untrue.”
As the judgment notes: “Ms Cadwalladr gave evidence that ‘there was no evidence’ that Mr Banks ‘had gone through with the deals’ (proffered via the Russian Embassy) ‘or made any money from them’; or that he ‘had accepted any money from the Russian Government or its proxies’. Nor was there any evidence ‘that Russian money went into the Brexit campaign’. Ms Cadwalladr also made clear that she had never thought Mr Banks was a ‘Russian agent’ or a ‘Russian actor’.”
Rather than proving the truth of the ‘single meaning’ determined by the judge, Cadwalladr therefore relied on a public interest defence – attempting to prove that what she said was on a matter of public interest. Through a combination of this defence, and insufficient evidence – in the view of the judge – to show that Banks suffered serious harm to his reputation, the claims were dismissed.
Another angle taken by publications sympathetic to Banks is that Cadwalladr defamed the Brexit campaigner but that he was awarded no damages.
Defamation can be a by-product of exposing individual and corporate wrongdoing. The purpose of a libel trial is to decide whether this is justified by any fair defences – truth, fair comment or public interest. As was partly the case in the Banks v Cadwalladr trial, it also comes to a conclusion about whether there was serious harm to the individual’s reputation or not.
The ultimate facts are that Banks’ claims were dismissed.
He has suggested he may appeal the decision and maintains that “this was never about seeking to silence criticism”.
“Carole knows that, had she apologised and agreed not to repeat this false accusation at the outset, these proceedings would never have been necessary,” he added.