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Legal actions between Health Minister Robin Swann and Van Morrison to be heard without jury

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Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann (PA)

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann (PA)

PA

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

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Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann (PA)

Legal actions between Health Minister Robin Swann and Sir Van Morrison are to be heard without a jury, a High Court judge has ruled.

The politician and musician are suing each other over comments related to how Covid restrictions were handled 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 last year.

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Van Morrison

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

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 Mr Swann, with DUP MP Ian Paisley invited up from the audience to join the chants.

Video footage of the incident subsequently went viral.

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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.

Sir Van is separately suing Mr Swann and the Department of Health over an opinion piece he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.

In the article, published after the performer released anti-lockdown songs, the Minister 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.

At a preliminary hearing, lawyers on both sides set out opposing arguments on how the two related actions are to 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.

An appeal against his decision could yet be mounted before any trial gets under way.


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