How do you prove that someone is a racist? The Frankie Boyle v The Daily Mirror case may well give us the answer to this question?

It has recently been reported that comedian Frankie Boyle will take libel action over an article published on 19 July 2011,which he claims made a number of defamatory accusations about him, the most serious in his opinion being a, description of him as a “racist”. His specialist defamation solicitors claim that this is obviously defamatory.

Given the recent unwanted attention thrust upon newspapers and the printed media by the Leveson Enquiry, The Daily Mirror are taking the step of defending the matter, with reliance placed on the defences of truth and fair comment i.e. that on the balance of probabilities Mr Boyle is a racist (truth) and/or their reference to him as a “racist” is an expression of an honestly held opinion, not a statement of fact, that is a matter of public interest. Both the selected defences may struggle, in my opinion to succeed. There is also the question of why did Mr Boyle not pursue a High Court injunction, given the length of time since the article was published. Rarely is such allegedly “obvious defamation” allowed to continue unabated in a newspaper without a High Court injunction being bandied about.

Much has been made of Mr Boyle’s history, which has seen complaints against his shows for joking about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey, criticism of his comments by the BBC Trust and various comments he made at the Paralympic Games, which may not assist him in succeeding in his claim. However, despite this history and his brand of edgy comedy, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he is a racist requires an increased level of evidence and proof on behalf of The Daily Mirror. If they cannot live up to this burden of proof the Court may inevitably decide that the national newspaper defamed him. If the case is decided against Mr Boyle this could prove costly to his career as he may no longer be able to shirk the “racist” tag. In any event the outcome of this case will be very interesting, and all specialist defamation solicitors will no doubt being keeping an eye on this matter.

John Spyrou

Head of Internet and Media Law

Pinder Reaux & Associates