Libel award first made by a judge

DAMAGES of pounds 7,500 have been awarded against Today newspaper in the first libel case to have the size of the award decided by a judge.

Lord Williams QC, chairman of the Bar Council, made the award after an hour-long hearing in his chambers on Wednesday night.

Both parties agreed to settle the case by binding arbitration after the newspaper apologised to Mr Justice Popplewell for suggesting that he had 'appeared to nod off' during a murder trial. It is the first libel action to be settled by arbitration rather than a High Court jury, and lawyers hope that the practice may now be adopted.

Daniel Taylor, counsel for the newspaper, said: 'The procedure significantly reduces the risk of a peculiar jury award and has meant a huge saving in both time and costs. The hearing took place within seven weeks of the original article being published and lasted only 58 minutes.'

The only issue to be decided by arbitration procedure was the amount of the award. It was thought that if arbitration was taken up for other libel actions, it was most likely to be used in similar uncontested cases.

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