Take care in what you ‘Tweet’

21 February 2013

Comments made on a Twitter account by the former Chairman and Commissioner of the Indian Premier League Lalit Modi (“the Defendant”), about New Zealand international cricketer Chris Cairns (“the Claimant”) have been the subject of a recent High Court Case,

In January 2010, the Defendant had alleged on his Twitter account that the Claimant had been “removed from the IPL action list due to his past record in match fixing. This was done by the Governing Council today.” On the same day, he made further comments to a journalist from the online cricket magazine Cricinfo referring to “alleged allegations” of match fixing by the Claimant. These allegations were then repeated in an article published by Cricinfo on their website.

The Claimant sued the Defendant for libel, on the basis that he had falsely accused him of match fixing. The Defendant asserted that the allegations were true and defended the claim on the grounds of justification.

The Judge found in favour of the Claimant, and held that he was entitled to damages, assessed at £90,000, and an injunction. The Defendant was held to have failed to provide any reliable evidence that the Claimant had been involved in match fixing, or even any evidence to suggest that there were strong grounds for suspicion that he was. It was obvious to the Judge that the allegations made “goes to the core attributes of his personality and, if true, entirely destroys his reputation of integrity”. Such allegations were as serious as could have been made against a professional sportsman. Consequently, the Defendant’s plea of justification failed.

The fact that comments may be made online via Twitter and to a small number of followers will not necessarily diminish the impact, and as such damages will not be reduced to a trivial amount. It is always difficult to ascertain the exact extent of such publications, but the Judge took into consideration the viral nature of the internet commenting “nowadays the poison tends to spread far more rapidly”.

An additional notable feature of the judgement was the decision to increase damages by 20%. This was due to the sustained and aggressive assertion of the pleading in justification at the trial by the Defendant (on numerous occasions branding the Claimant a ‘liar’).

This judgement serves as a warning to anybody using social media networking to take great care when posting material online. It is evident that the court is prepared to act upon any defamatory action that may cause significant harm to an individual’s reputation, even if it is a mere 140 (or fewer) characters long. As noted in the judgement of this case, even those who believe their comments may only be viewed by a small number of people may find the damages caused are significant. The viral nature of the internet means that anything posted online may have the potential to rapidly spread global. The current trend in cases has seen that the law has taken a serious approach towards social networking sites, careless comments should be made at your own peril.

For additional information please contact Justin Emerson of Gepp & Sons on 01245 228113 or emersonj@gepp.co.uk

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.