Aurence Fox has asked a High Court judge for a jury trial over his libel battle against three people he called “paedophiles” on Twitter.
The actor is being sued by former Stonewall administrator Simon Blake, Coronation Street actress Nicola Thorp and drag artist Crystal following an online row in October 2020.
In turn, Mr Fox – who founded the Reclaim Party and ran unsuccessfully in London’s last mayoral election – is counter-suing the trio over tweets accusing them of racism in an exchange over Sainsbury’s decision to celebrate Black History Month.
At a hearing on Thursday, Mr Fox’s lawyers asked for the case to be decided by a jury rather than a judge – which is now highly unusual in libel cases.
The Lewis actor attended the hearing outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, seated behind his lawyer in a navy blue suit.
Alexandra Marzec, for Mr Fox, told the court her client was counter-suing to ‘clear his name of the false slur’ of being called a racist.
Ms Marzec said a jury would be better able to reach fair verdicts “in light of the cultural and social context of this case”.
She continued, “On a question like this, ‘what is a racist?
“He or she is aided by his or her own life experience and knowledge of the English language.”
The lawyer said the jury was also more likely to be diverse than a single High Court judge.
Ms Marzec added: “The 12 people pooled their life experience and their use of the English language to determine the natural and ordinary meaning of this word… A jury would simply be better able to do this task than ‘one judge’.
In written submissions, the attorney said Mr Fox would be more validly vindicated if successful in his counterclaim heard by a diverse jury, as the decision would be “unable to be undermined on the lazy basis that a white judge sided with a white man who denied being a racist”.
She also wrote that her three tweets were not intended “or received or understood by anyone as a factual statement that any of the plaintiffs were in fact ‘paedophiles’.”
Ms Marzec then argued that judges could be subject to ‘unintentional bias’ because a Judicial College document on equal treatment contains an ‘ideological’ definition of racism.
She later added: “I am speaking here of an appearance of bias and I am not suggesting that a judge will not abide by his judicial oath.
“We’re talking about how the public would perceive that.”
Heather Rogers QC, for the trio, disputed this claim.
She said, “That’s such a bad argument…. It’s a guide to how you treat people in court, it’s not the law.
The attorney added in written submissions that he “sees no good reason for the court to order a jury trial in this matter.”
“There’s nothing in there,” she said.
Ms Rogers later said no one had suggested in the case that her three clients were paedophiles, adding that Mr Fox’s case was that ‘he was using a rhetorical device’.
The judge who heard Mr. Fox’s bid for a jury trial, Justice Nicklin, has yet to rule on how the trial should be heard.
However, the lead judge said juries could present people with “a real bias or prejudice towards one or more parties”.
The judge also said the trial judge would still be involved in the case, adding that jurors “will not be left like sheep on an open promontory.”
The hearing is due to end Thursday afternoon with a decision likely to be made at a later date.