THE COST of a bitter libel dispute between a Government Minister, a local councillor and newspaper bosses in Yorkshire looks set to rocket after a High Court judge ruled that the case should be heard in full by a jury for the second time.
The case, brought by the Minister for International Development, Dewsbury and Mirfield MP Shahid Malik, pictured, was heard over two weeks at the High Court last month, but ended with the jury failing to reach a verdict, and it was then estimated to have cost around 400,000.
Lawyers for Mr Malik, who claim he was accused of racism by the former Tory councillor and the independent Dewsbury Press, asked a top judge to rule on the matter himself, without a jury.
But the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who also presided over the first hearing of the case, said the matter was of such "considerable public importance" that it had to go before a jury again.
The costs already run up by both sides have been estimated at more than 300,000 and, as the judge has agreed an even longer time slot than the two weeks of the first trial, those costs could more than double.
Mr Malik, the MP for Dewsbury – and the first Muslim to become a Government Minister – claims a letter written by former Tory councillor, Jonathan Scott, printed in the Dewsbury Press last May, was defamatory.
And an article, which was printed in the same independent weekly newspaper the following week also contained defamatory comments, he claims.
He argues that the inference in the two pieces was that he had played 'race-card politics', directing gangs to encourage Muslim voters to vote for Muslim Labour candidates.
Mr Scott, the newspaper publisher, Newspost Ltd, and the paper's former editor, Danny Lockwood, were represented by a top libel lawyer at the first trial, but could be unrepresented when the new hearing gets underway, probably early in the new year.
They all deny having defamed Mr Malik.
Adam Wolanski, who represented Mr Malik at the trial, urged the judge to decide the case himself. But Mr Justice Eady said much of the documentation that would go before jurors would be easy for them to consider and he would direct a fresh jury trial.