• Doc Sheldon

    If the UK court sees Sally Bercow’s tweet as libelous, for simply mentioning that Lord McAlpine was trending, then one could assume that a suit against Twitter for showing him as trending would be equally valid.

    While I can see a certain logic in the UK’s definition of harm to one’s reputation, this finding seems to me to set a dangerous precedent. Does legal precedent carry the same sort of weight in the UK as it does in the US?

  • gregsterling

    I’m not familiar enough with UK law to definitively answer the question. But the UK and US systems are built on common law and apply similar concepts. So my guess would be that it has potential weight as (a dangerous) precedent.

  • loverat

    The decision on meaning may be correct (but harsh) but the whole outcome is wrong. This is because the case was aparently managed in such a way that the tweet was not considered in the wider context of the compensation received to date and the totality of the publications. Do not confuse this with a damages hearing which would have taken place if SB had not given up. I am talking about the ‘abuse of process’ argument which has been used in numerous libel cases on the basis that the ‘game is not worth the candle’ and the cost of pursuing this one individual publication was disproportionate to any further vindication which could have been achieved.

    The guidance is set out clearly in previous cases – most notably Smith V ADVFN. In cases which involve multiple publications and defendants, you cannot proceed in the traditional way and on the assumption the damages are payable if the tweet is defamatory. As the judge noted in Smith V ADVFN, in these cases, you have to stand back and look at the litigation as a whole and in its proper context. For example does anyone really believe this tweet made a difference in the context of the number of tweets and publications and what happened before? (the broadcasts and rumours for years) I seriously doubt it. And what about the danger of over-compensation? If this ruling is followed there is nothing to stop McAlpine and others demanding £50k from everyone involved. That was specifically addressed by the judge in Smith V ADVFN where he suggested that the administration of justice could be brought into disrepute if litigation against multiple defendants was not brought under proper control and management.

    This outcome is the most ridiculous I have reviewed for some years and either the judge simply took a dislike to the defendant or the departure from established legal precedent represents a return back to the dark days. I am simply stunned that a top judge could get it so wrong.

  • loverat

    “As unfortunate as the ruling may be, it’s consistent with the history of
    UK (and broader European) law that protects reputation at the expense
    of other values, such as speech. Twitter was not a party to the lawsuit”

    I should have probably made myself a bit clearer with my comments about legal precendents etc. I think the above statement was true up until about 5 years ago but more recently the High Court generally has struck a better balance between the right to reputation and free speech. In the last 3 years, there have been a very high number of libel cases struck out early for abuse of process. More common sense decisions, ‘context’, ‘proportionality’, ‘economy and restraint’ being words used often by judges to strike out cases. In 2010 in England and Wales 81% of defendants won their cases.

    That is why this decison defies logic and belief and why I think the comment in the article is probably not quite as true as once it was.