Roy Greenslade has been pretty agnostic about the libel judge, Mr Justice Eady. However, the experience of giving evidence has turned the man distinctly Eady-sceptic:
I frankly admit I was shaken by Eady’s conduct of the Bower-Desmond trial. It was clear from the way in which he prevented a whole range of evidence emerging about Desmond’s conduct over the years — all of which is in the public domain — that he was not serving the interests of justice.
These rulings, two of which were reversed by the Appeal Court, were catalogued in various post-trial reports last week and there is no need to repeat every example here. What is of note, however, is the way in which those eminent lords of appeal rebuked Eady, stating plainly that he was wrong and, if his rulings, stood, they might well cause a miscarriage of justice.
These rejections of Eady placed him in an entirely new light. While accepting that no judge is infallible, my faith in Eady’s abilities was knocked for six. It took an even greater knock — out of the ground in cricket parlance — when I was giving evidence.
I was allowed only to say that Desmond was a newspaper proprietor with a bad reputation but when I sought to explain to the jury the grounds for my contention, Eady specifically forbade me from explaining why. If I read the faces of the jurors correctly, they were also anxious to hear what I had to say.
On returning to my seat at the back of the court an observation by Beachcomber’s author, JB Morton, came to mind: “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be believed.” I had never seen Eady as Cocklecarrot before.
In a break, I then came across a lawyer acting for The Times in a libel hearing at an adjacent court. “Lucky us,” he said, “you’ve got Eady and we have Mr Justice Tugendhat. Much better.”
I have tried since then to avoid making too much of a single case, and my own personal animus at my treatment, to damn Eady in similar terms to those employed by Dacre.
But I do now agree with his overall point that it cannot be right for a single judge to hear so many libel actions, especially when his “superiors” have seen fit to admonish him on matters of law. If he remains in place, I fear press freedom could well be unacceptably constrained.