Trial of Preliminary Issues (TPI) Explained

Steve Coogan’s film The Lost King is defamatory, according to a judgment handed down last June.

The film is the subject of a defamation claim brought by Richard Stewart Taylor, a former director at the University of Leicester, in respect of its portrayal of people and events involved in the discovery of King Richard III’s remains. Mr Taylor is suing the film’s producers for its depiction of his and the University’s role in the discovery.

Specifically, Mr Taylor complains the film minimises and distorts his treatment of Philippa Langley, an amateur historian (and protagonist of the film) who the film’s credits as the archaeological mastermind behind the discovery. He also argues the film portrays him in a dismissive, patronising and misogynistic way. In response, the Defendants argue the film was a statement of opinion – portraying Ms Langley’s “story” – which is a full defence to defamation proceedings pursuant to s. 3(2) of the Defamation Act 2013.

This legal confrontation brings into focus the boundaries between artistic license and the responsibility of filmmakers depicting real-life events. A comparable lawsuit has commenced against Netflix in respect of its portrayal of people and events in the hit show Baby Reindeer.

The court ordered a Trial of Preliminary Issues (‘TPI’) to discuss the question of meaning in this case, specifically in relation to whether the statements Mr Taylor complains of can be considered defamatory.

TPIs are useful mechanisms to clarify legal boundaries and address actual issues in dispute early on in a claim. A party can apply for a TPI or the court can order one on its own volition, pursuant to the Civil Procedure Rules 3.1(2)(l). TPIs are now common in defamation claims, especially in cases where artistic interpretation is challenged by factual representation.. If it transpires following a TPI that the publication or broadcast is not defamatory then there is simply no defamation to pursue.   As such, a TPI can provide a quick resolution and significantly reduce legal costs.

In making his decision, Judge Lewis considered:

The court ultimately found the statements in the film which Mr Taylor complains of had a defamatory meaning from the perspective of a hypothetical viewer, both in the portrayal of certain factual events and also in the presentation of Mr Taylor’s conduct (although he stopped short of labelling it misogynistic). The case will now continue to a full trial.

This judgement is an important reminder to publishers of the limits of artistic licence when basing content on real-life people or events. It also highlights the importance of TPIs in deciding key issues at an early stage. TPIs can be crucial to defamation cases, underlining the legal threshold for what constitutes scandalmongering early on. It should be noted that TPIs are not limited to defamation claims, and Taylor Hampton was involved in a recent successful TPI in the ongoing phone-hacking litigation against News Group Newspapers.

For more information contact Taylor Hampton Solicitors at, or 00442074275970.

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