Contrary to widespread reports, Lance Armstrong’s libel suit against the Sunday Times is not likely
PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM Lance Armstrong’s libel case against The Sunday Times, contrary to widespread reports, is far from over and could even continue until the end of this year. Following publication of a correction that appeared in yesterday’s (January 11) edition of The Guardian newspaper and our detailed discussions with the legal department at The Sunday Times newspaper, procycling can correct the recent stories concerning the ongoing legal dispute between Armstrong and the Sunday Times, plus its chief sports reporter, David Walsh, and deputy editor, Alan English. In the story that appeared on the procycling.com website on January 8, we reported that the judge in the case, Mr Justice Eady, had struck out the defence offered by the Sunday Times against Armstrong’s suit in its entirety. In fact, Mr Justice Eady struck out the ‘qualified privilege’ defence that the newspaper had wanted to present in the case. He also deleted a pleaded meaning that the article published by the Sunday Times on June 13, 2004 meant no more than that more questions needed to be asked about Armstrong’s performances at the Tour de France in recent seasons. However, Mr Justice Eady did not strike out the newspaper’s defence of ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ justification defence. It was also incorrect to suggest, as some have done, that the Sunday Times now faces a substantial compensation payment to Armstrong. Rulings of the type delivered by Mr Justice Eady on December 17, 2004 are standard at this stage of such a court action, and are generally designed to sort out procedural issues at the case management stage; in other words, establishing and narrowing down what defences and therefore what evidence can be offered before a full trial takes place before a jury. In addition, Times Newspapers can appeal the rulings made by Mr Justice Eady, and is currently considering whether to do so. Actions of this type can take as long as 12 months before they reach a full court trial. The legal team at Times Newspapers does not expect a full trial to take place until October or November of this year at the latest. The article written by Alan English in the June 13, 2004 edition of the Sunday Times that provoked a libel suit from Armstrong has been withdrawn from Times Newspapers’ online archive as long as it is subject to a legal warning. Stepping outside the complicated legal jargon, it is clear that this case has some distance to run yet before a trial will take place and a verdict is achieved. Until then, talk of victory for either party and also of the size of potential awards is extremely premature.