Katie Hopkins “too late” to ask trial judge for permission to appeal libel ruling

Warby: no jurisdiction after order was sealed

A High Court judge has refused newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins permission to appeal against his high-profile ruling that she had to pay £24,000 in damages over two libellous tweets, saying she applied too late.

He indicated that he would not have granted permission anyway.

Mr Justice Warby handed down judgment on 10 March in favour of blogger and campaigner Jack Monroe, and then heard argument and made his decisions on costs. These included an order for an interim payment of £107,000 on account of costs. The formal order reflecting these decisions was sealed on 21 March.

In his ruling yesterday, Warby J recorded: “During this process there was no application for permission to appeal. The skeleton argument for Ms Hopkins stated that she was considering her position in relation to an appeal but was not making or seeking an extension of time for doing so.

“It would appear that the question had been considered and a conclusion reached that no application would be made at that time. It was said that any application would be made to the appeal court.”

On 23 March, Ms Hopkins’ solicitors, Kinglsey Napley, told the judge that she intended to appeal and that leading counsel had advised that it would be desirable to seek permission from him, prior to applying to the Court of Appeal.

However, Warby J decided that, as the order had been sealed, he no longer had jurisdiction over the case.

“A reserved judgment is given, and the decision is made, when the judgment is handed down at a hearing in court. On the face of it, the application to the lower court must be made then, or at some later date to which the hearing is then adjourned for that purpose, at the request of the potential appellant or at the instigation of the court.

“If an application is not made at one or other of those times, it can only be made to the appeal court. This is a clear and understandable regime, which places the onus on the party who may wish to appeal to make a decision, or to ask for time to make one.

“The standard practice of circulating reserved judgments [as was done here] should make it easier for a party to decide whether to seek permission, and to identify grounds of appeal which can be argued at the hand down.  It is inherently desirable to avoid afterthoughts, and to avoid the uncertainty for the opposite party that would result if these were permitted.”

Kingsley Napley said the judge could still comment on the proposed grounds of appeal, but having concluded that he had no jurisdiction, the judge declined to do so.

“But I will say this. I would have refused permission, as I do not consider any of the four grounds of appeal to have a real prospect of success or that there is any other compelling reason for an appeal to be heard.

“This was not a case which raised any great issues of legal principle. It turned essentially on its own facts. The points of law that are raised are in my view untenable. The Court of Appeal will not lightly interfere with findings of fact.”

Warby J also refused to stay payment of the £107,000 and the assessment of the costs.

“The point is made that the claimant’s solicitor has declined to give any undertaking or comfort as to repayment of the £107,000, if the court decided that should be done.

“It is Ms Monroe herself who would be liable to repay, and it is said that she is of limited means. I do not consider that the information before the court discloses a sufficient risk of these monies being lost, to justify the imposition of a stay.

“The question of whether to stay assessment can be reconsidered if an application is made to the Court of Appeal, and the single judge takes a different view from mine on the merits of the proposed appeal.”

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