Sir Van Morrision granted leave to appeal no-jury decision in legal battle with Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann and Sir Van Morrison are in a legal battle

Sir Van Morrison was on Monday granted leave to appeal a decision that his legal battle with Health Minister Robin Swann be heard without a jury.

Last month counsel for the musician confirmed he would seek leave to appeal against the decision reached in actions related to the handling of Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Mr Swann issued defamation proceedings after Sir Van chanted that he was “very dangerous” during a dinner at Belfast’s Europa Hotel in June 2021.

It came after gigs by the singer-songwriter at the venue were cancelled due to a ban on live music imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions.

He took to the stage and directed criticism at the Health Minister, with DUP MP Ian Paisley invited up from the audience to join the chants.

Video footage of the incident subsequently went viral.

Mr Paisley later defended his involvement as an act of parody, comedy, banter and sarcasm.

The defamation claim also cites further incidents involving a media interview and online video.

In a separate action, Sir Van is suing Mr Swann and the Department of Health over an opinion piece he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.

The article, published after the performer released anti-lockdown songs, expressed disappointment at someone he acknowledged as “one of the greatest music legends of the past 50 years”.

He described the songs as a “smear” on those involved in the public health response to the pandemic.

During a hearing at the High Court in June this year, lawyers on both sides set out opposing arguments on how the two related actions should proceed.

Mr Swann’s legal team sought trial by a judge sitting alone, while Sir Van’s representatives pressed for the claims to be determined by a jury.

Points were also raised about the complexity of the issues involved, and the potential for delay in securing a courtroom.

Following deliberation, Mr Justice McAlinden held that both actions should be heard by a judge alone.

At the Court of Appeal on Monday, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan KC, sitting with Lord Justice Treacy KC, said the court had read submitted written legal arguments by Sir Van's legal team in relation to an application for leave to appeal and for an extension of time.

"We are grateful to counsel for the written legal argument that has been filed in support of an application for leave to appeal a decision made by Mr Justice McAlinden in relation to whether or not there should be trial by jury or judge in this case.

"The test for leave to appeal is a modest one as to whether there is an arguable case for a reasonable prospect of success.

"We consider that the test has been met in this case on the basis of the written arguments raised and we will grant leave on the four grounds set out in the paper work.

"It also follows that an extension of time will be granted to allow this matter to be debated and for a substantive ruling to be made,'' added Lady Justice Keegan.

The case will be reviewed on October 24, 2022, with a potential hearing date for the appeal in either November of December this year.


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