An interesting case has made it to the High Court. Most people give little thought to the comments that they freely and frequently post on social media. However, the case is a salutary tale for regular bloggers and reminds them that they should always be wary of the comments that they make about other people or organisations when putting them into the public domain.
Libel is an area of law which most ordinary people do not think about regularly. Libel is a published false statement which damages a person's reputation. In the recent case, a libel action arose out of a dispute concerning ownership and right-of-way over a piece of land in the village of Rosgill in Cumbria. The defendant in the case had lived in the village since 2011 and had operated a local website since 2017 which she called 'Concerned of Rosgill'. The claimants in the case contended that they owned the area of disputed land. As is often the case in these situations, there had been various claims as to ownership and use of the disputed land.
Tempers ran high, culminating in what the judge referred to as 'very significant friction' and a post on the defendant's website which named the claimants and included:
"Isn't this charming?
The offensive individuals at the top of the hill are now attacking medical staff trying to visit their seriously ill patients! Just how low can they stoop in their spiteful campaign to steal a piece of land? Liars, thieves and bullies we know them to be; we know they have been brainwashing at least two vulnerable elderly village characters into further confusion and bewilderment. Now they are threatening the vital carer network. Shame on them!"
The claimants brought a libel claim against the defendant. The judgement set out a very long list of incidents relating to the disputed land and letters and communication between the claimants and the defendant. However, on the central question of the libel, the claimants had to prove that the statements were defamatory and did as a matter-of-fact cause them reputational harm. Interestingly, one of the defendant's arguments was that 'any damage to their reputation was self-inflicted by their conduct; and thus they had no reputation to lose'.
The judge went through all of the articles and comments which had been published on the website and found that a number of them were defamatory and awarded the claimants £15,000 for damage to their reputation. The costs, which will be no doubt awarded against the defendant, will be many thousands of pounds more.
The case is an important reminder to anyone running a blog or making comments on a public forum that they must take care with their language, content and allegations.
To discuss this or any other litigation matter, contact us.