By Gerard Knapp
Times Newspapers Limited is considering seeking permission to appeal against the judgment handed down in the British High Court by Mr Justice Eady concerning the libel action brought by six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong against the newspaper.
The legal department of TNL contacted Cyclingnews to clarify an earlier article published on this web site. The Sunday Times' in-house solicitor, Ms Gillian Phillips, stressed that the case was far from over and that the paper still planned to mount a defense in a trial that is slated to commence in October or November this year.
Phillips said the paper had 14 to 21 days to consider its appeal, and while admitting that Justice Eady's latest judgment "concerned" the organisation, she claimed the paper still had an array of legal arguments it could forward in its defence. "In fact, the Judge did not throw out the newspaper's whole defence; he struck out the qualified privilege defence and also a pleaded meaning that the article published by The Sunday Times meant no more that there were some questions needing to be investigated," Phillips said.
"However, the newspaper's defence of justification (truth) remains and the litigation is ongoing. The Sunday Times is considering whether to seek permission to appeal against the Judge's ruling."
Essentially, the paper has to prove that it did not defame the cyclist with publication of the hard-hitting article that cast doubt on Armstrong's achievements.
Justice Eady's statement, issued on December 17 last year, is a significant step in the legal process of this complicated libel case. Initiated by Armstrong after the publication of a story in The Sunday Times on June 13, 2004, the article is also an opportunity for the cyclist to name the Irish journalist, David Walsh, author of the controversial book, LA Confidentiel (so far only published in French, written by Walsh with Pierre Ballester).
Walsh did not write The Sunday Times article and in fact Walsh is not an employee of the paper. Rather, he has been a freelance writer for the paper for several years allowing him time to also concentrate on his books. The article was actually written by Sunday Times' journalist, Alan English, also named in Armstrong's action, who quotes Walsh extensively. It's believed that their naming in the action could put both writers in the firing line should the court find in favour of the claimant and any damages be awarded.
Justice Eady's judgment 'lays the table' for arguments that can be advanced by both sides in the planned trial. Significantly, the judgment does reject key arguments pleaded by TNL.
The judge's striking out of the qualified privilege defence is somewhat ironic for The Sunday Times, which advanced this legal argument and lobbied the House of Lords to introduce it into British Law. It aims to provide a legal defence for quality investigative journalism, but in this libel case, Mr Justice Eady ruled it can't be used by the organisation that fought for its introduction.