One of England’s first black female judges is embroiled in a bizarre fight in the court with her daughter. The case has the English bar all atwitter and has finally reached this side of the pond. Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, 74, has sued her daughter Constance Briscoe (who is s part-timejudge) for libel over a tell-all book– pitting two judges against each other in a judicial version of Mother Dearest.
Briscoe-Mitchell is a famous jurist after shattering the glass ceiling of the English courts as one of the first black women judges. She is accused by her barrister daughter Constance Briscoe, 51, of being abusive and even violent.
The accusations are contained in Constance Briscoe’s memoir, appropriately called Ugly, where she says that the judge punched, kicked and beat her.
Her mother sued her for libel.
Judge Briscoe-Mitchell appeared in court to tell the jury: “I never had any problems with my children. My children were my pride and joy.”
She was specifically asked about allegations that she described her daughter as “ugly” and a “swine.” She responded: “No, none of my children are ugly. Constance isn’t ugly . . . She was a beautiful baby and she still is anyway – she still is a beautiful girl, but she didn’t like her colour.” [Note: in the United States, we prefer “pig” when ridiculing our children, as shown in the Baldwin matter.]
This could prove expensive for one of the judges under the English Rule, which requires the loser to pay the winner’s attorney’s fees.
Under the English system, the defendant has the burden of proving truth of the allegations as opposed to the plaintiffs duty to prove that they are false. This is the opposite of the rule in Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 475 U.S. 767, 776 (1986). In that case, the Supreme Court changed the burden in defamation cases for publications regarding matters of public concern. Under Hepps, I”the plaintiff [must] bear the burden of showing falsity, as well as [the defendant’s] fault, before recovering damages.” Under the common-law rule, the defendant normally must prove truth of the statement as a defense — the same rule still applied in England.
England remains a better jurisdiction for plaintiffs in defamation cases where the United States is more protective over free speech and the free press.
The Briscoe case, however, reaffirms my practice of getting the four kids to sign annual waiver forms regarding any litigation over conditions, comments, or conduct within the home.
For the full story, click here.