Top 10 Defamation Cases 2021: a selection – Suneet Sharma

Inforrm reported on a large number of defamation cases from around the world in 2020.  Following my widely read posts on 2017,  2018,  2019 and 2020 defamation cases, this is my personal selection of the most legally and factually interesting cases from England, Australia and Canada from the past year.

Please add, by way of comments, cases from other jurisdictions which you think should be added.

  1. Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd; Nationwide News Pty Limited; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2021] HCA 27

The controversial finding of the majority of the High Court of Australia that news organisations were publishers of third-party comments on their Facebook pages.

Mr Voller brought defamation proceedings against a series of media organisations alleging that each of the applicants became a publisher of any third party comment on its Facebook once it was posted an read by another user. He was successful at first instance and the successive appeals against the finding was rejected.  The position was summarised as follows

“each appellant intentionally took a platform provided by another entity, Facebook, created and administered a public Facebook page, and posted content on that page. The creation of the public Facebook page, and the posting of content on that page, encouraged and facilitated publication of comments from third parties. The appellants were thereby publishers of the third-party comments” [105].

Inforrm had a post about the decision.

The Australian Government are already proposing to reverse the effect of this decision by statute – see the Inforrm post here.

  1. Lachaux v Independent Print Limited [2021] EWHC 1797 (QB)

In the latest instalment in the long running saga of the Lachaux libel litigation, Mr Justice Nicklin dismissed the Defendants’ public interest defence and ordered the publishers of The Independent, The i and the Evening Standard newspapers to pay £120,000 in libel damages to aerospace engineer Bruno Lachaux. The defendants falsely alleged he had, amongst other things, been violent, abusive and controlling towards his ex-wife, that he had callously and without justification taken their son away from her, and that he had falsely accused his ex-wife of abducting their son.

The Judge provided important commentary on the standards to be upheld by defendants seeking to establish the public interest defence to what would otherwise be considered defamatory coverage.  He said:

I have no hesitation in finding that it was not in the public interest to publish [Articles], which contained allegations that were seriously defamatory of the Claimant, without having given him an opportunity to respond to them. The decision not to contact the Claimant was not a result of any careful editorial consideration, it was a mistake …journalists and those in professional publishing organisations should be able to demonstrate, not only that they reasonably believed the publication would be in the public interest, but also how and with whom this was established at the time…

Informm had a case comment as did, 5RB.

The saga has not yet concluded.  The defendants have been granted permission to appeal and their appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 12 April 2022.

3. Hijazi v Yaxley-Lennon[2021] EWHC 2008 (QB)

A case concerning a short altercation between two pupils on the playing field of Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield. A video was taken of the incident which subsequently “went viral”, just after the perpetrator of the altercation was expelled from school. He later received a caution for common assault for the incident.

On 28 and 29 November 2018 Mr Yaxley-Lennon used his Facebook account to post two videos of himself giving his opinion on the incident. He suggested, contrary to narratives emerging from media coverage of the altercation, that some of the sympathy toward Mr Hijazi (the claimant) were undeserved as he had committed similar violence.

Both videos were found to be defamatory of Mr Hijazi

In finding for the claimant after the substantive trial, Mr Justice Nicklin stated:

“The Defendant’s allegations against the Claimant were very serious and were published widely. The Defendant has admitted that their publication has caused serious harm to the Claimant’s reputation. The consequences to the Claimant have been particularly severe. Although it was media attention on the Viral Video that first propelled the Claimant (and Bailey McLaren) into the glare of publicity, overwhelmingly that coverage (rightly) portrayed the Claimant as the victim in the Playing Field Incident. The Defendant’s contribution to this media frenzy was a deliberate effort to portray the Claimant as being, far from an innocent victim, but in fact a violent aggressor. Worse, the language used in the First and Second Videos was calculated to inflame the situation. As was entirely predictable, the Claimant then became the target of abuse which ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home, and the Claimant to have to abandon his education. The Defendant is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the Claimant’s education, are likely last for many years, if not a lifetime.”

There was an Inforrm Case Comment

4.  Abramovich v Harpercollins Publishers Ltd & Anor [2021] EWHC 3154 (QB)

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich succeeded at a preliminary issue trial on meaning. Mrs Justice Tipples found that all nine of the meanings of allegations relating to Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea FC “on the directions of President Putin and the Kremlin” were defamatory.

The case concerned a claim of defamation against Catherine Belton and publisher Harper Collins of allegations made in the her book, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On The West.

5.   Vardy v Rooney [2021] EWHC 1888 (QB) Inforrm Case Comment

Known as the “Wagatha Christie litigation” this concerned a claim of defamation brought by Rebekah Vardy against Coleen Rooney. The case stems from series of statements published by the defendant on her public Instagram account. Mr Justice Warby, previously found that the statements meant:

Over a period of years Ms Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Ms Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Ms Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public.

This part of the litigation concerns the claimants attempts to strike out and claim summary judgment. A number of paragraphs of the Amended Defence were struck out in relation to allegations of the claimants’ publicity seeking behaviour.

  1. Nettle v Cruse [2021] FCA 93

Sydney based plastic surgeon Dr Nettle refused to operate on Ms Cruse. Cruse posted comments which were highly defamatory of Dr Nettle throughout 2018. This included creating a website in the URL of Dr Nettle’s name. Allegations ranged from failing to keep records confidential to performing unauthorised surgeries. The court found in Dr Nettles favour concluding:

“Dr Nettle has proved that he was defamed by Ms Cruse in four publications in 2018.  Judgment will be entered for Dr Nettle with damages payable by Ms Cruse assessed at $450,000.  Injunctions restraining Ms Cruse from republishing the four impugned publications, or the imputations which have been found to be conveyed by them, will be made permanent.  Ms Cruse will also be ordered to pay Dr Nettle’s costs of the proceeding.”             

  1. Webb v Jones [2021] EWHC 1618 (QB)

A libel claim arising from Facebook postings. The claimant failed to comply with the pre-action protocol and failed to provide particulars of publication context in her pleading until three months after service of the Claim Form.  The defendant’s application for strike out in this case was successful.  The case provides useful guidance on the procedural niceties of conducting a libel claim. Inforrm has a case comment. 

  1. Corbyn v Millett [2021] EWCA Civ 567

The respondent issued defamation proceedings against Jeremy Corbyn in respect of an interview he gave on the Andrew Marr Show in which he had referred to people in the audience as “Zionists” who “don’t understand English irony”.  Saini J held that this made a defamatory allegation of fact.  Mr Corbyn, appealed.  Warby LJ held that the judge did not err in finding that the words ‘disruptive’ and ‘abusive’ were statements of fact?  The appellant was “presenting viewers with a factual narrative”.  He also held that the Judge’s approach to  ‘bare comment’ had been correct and there was no error of law in the finding that imputation were defamatory at common law?

  1. Greenstein v Campaign Against Antisemitism [2021] EWCA Civ 1006

A libel claim against the Campaign Against Antisemitism after the Campaign referred to Greenstein in a series of five articles published on its website. The appeal was against an order striking out particulars of malice and judgment entered into in favour of the Campaign. In upholding the first instance decision, Dingemans LJ reiterated the principles to finding malice from Horrocks v Lowe [1975] AC 135.

  1. Chak v Levant2021 ABQB 946

Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant, was ordered to pay damages of $60,000, following Leonard J finding he defamed a political science professor and former Liberal candidate during a 2014 Sun News broadcast. Levant claimed Farhan Chak “shot up” a nightclub when he was 19 years old.

Top 10 Defamation Cases 2020

In 2020 there were many significant defamation cases from across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These cases provided prominent forums for defamation cases and facilitated for significant development, analysis and application of the law.

  1. Depp v News Group Newspapers [2020] EWHC 2911 (QB) 

The highly publicised libel trial of Johnny Depp against the publisher of the Sun newspaper. The action came following the publication of an article characterising Depp as “wife beater Depp”.  It was concluded: 

“The Claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel. Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the Defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.”    

There was an Inforrm case comment. Coverage from news outlets was also predictably broad with the IndependentNews.au and the Sun itselfDepp is reported appealing the finding.    

  1. Serafin v Malkiewicz & Others  [2020] 1 WLR 2455  

An action for libel and misuse of private information in respect to an article published in October 2015. The Supreme Court here provided guidance on s.4 of the Defamation Act 2020, the public interest defence. The case is also significant due to the rare instance of the UK Supreme Court ordering a full retrial in the case, concluding that “the justice system has failed both sides” with “deep regret” and “a degree of embarrassment in relation to respected colleagues” in the Court of Appeal. There was an Inforrm case comment and a comment from 5RB Chambers.  

  1. Gubarev v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd [2020] EWHC 2912 (QB) 

A defamation trial concerning the publication of an article on Buzzfeed alleging that the claimants took actions to undermine the democratic party leadership throughout March-September 2016. It was not established that the defendant was responsible in law for the publication of the publication complained of.  There was an Inforrm case comment

4. Vardy v Rooney [2020] EWHC 3156 (QB) 

A preliminary trial as to meaning following Ms Rooney’s statement on her Instagram account that she had identified who was leaking details of her personal life to the Sun. There was an Inforrm case comment. As expected the case drew a media frenzy with commentary from the MetroCNNTelegraphDaily Mail and INews.   

  1. Campbell v Dugdale [2020] CSIH 27  

A case in First Division, Inner House of the Court of Session. The case concerns allegations that a tweet made by the claimant was homophobic. The then Leader of the Scottish Labour Party described the tweets as “homophobic” and described the author as “someone who sprouts hatred and homophobia towards others”. It was affirmed that the defence of fair comment was applicable here and the appeal was dismissed. Brodies LLP has a case comment.  

  1. 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association; Bent v. Platnick   

These two cases analysed anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario providing a detailed review of the language of the legislation and how it ought to, theoretically, be applied. Plantick involved the application of these principles with the 5:4 split suggesting that there remains a high degree of judicial discretion at play in the application of Ontario anti-SLAPP legislation. There was an Inforrm case comment.  

7. Herron v HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Ltd (No 3)[2020] FCA 1687 

The case concerned allegations made in a book written by journalist Steve Cannane, published in 2016, which concerned the Church of Scientology in Australia. The Claimants sued for defamation over the book’s contents, despite the issues raised having been found against them by an enquiry 30 years previously. The case covered determinations of many factual matters and ultimately the claimants were unsuccessful. There was a  5RB news item

  1. Rush v Nationwide News [2020] FCAFC 115  

The Newspapers failed attempt to appeal against the original finding in the Geoffery Rush defamation case from last years list, this concerned the assessment of the award of damages made by the Court. The award of $2,872,753.10 to Mr Rush was upheld. The case was covered by the BBC.  

  1. Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2020] NSWCA 102.  

A finding that establishes that media companies can be considered publishers of comments made by readers on their social media accounts. This means media companies can be held responsible for responses to media they post. The Court of Appeal majority in the case concluded: “it is not uncommon for persons to be held liable for the publication of defamatory imputations conveyed by matter composed by another person”.  

There was an Inforrm comment on the case. 

  1. Higgins v Irish Aviation Authority [2020] IECA 157.   

A €387,000 defamation award by a jury to an Aer Lingus pilot against the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has been cut to €76,500 by the Court of Appeal. Mr Justice Donald Binchy, on behalf of the three-judge COA, found the appropriate sum for general and aggravated damages was €76,500.  There were pieces in The Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times. There was a discussion on the Ronan Daly Jermyn website

Top 10 Defamation Cases 2019

Happy New Year readers!

This year we again are publishing our thoughts on the Top 10 Defamation cases of the year.

This covers the top 10 defamation cases jurisdictionally from across the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Case will be ranked on the strength of the precedence they set, including thier impact on the jurisdictions legal framework.

Many thanks to INFORRM for orginally agreeing to post this article.

Determining the meaning of a statement in defamation proceedings before the Supreme Court – Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17

The Supreme Court has heard a case on establishing the meaning of the statement “he tried to strangle me”. The case concerned and exchange between Mrs Stocker and an Ms Bligh (then Mr Stocker’s partner) on Facebook in which Mrs Stocker alleged that Mr Stocker tried to strangle her.

In this context, Mrs Stocker also alleged that Mr Stocker had been removed from the house following issuing threats against her, that there were some “gun issues” and that the police had determined he had breached a non-molestation order. Continue reading

Defamation

Defamation seeks to protect the individuals’ reputation from false statements which harm or may harm it. Slander and libel (more permanent forms of communication) refer to a statement publicized to a third party which has or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation.

Defamation is a construct of the common law, built up over a series of legal cases. Defamation cases have been held to extend to social media, such as to tweets made by Katie Hopkins to food writer Jack Monroe.

Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2011] EWHC 159 (QB) highlighted that defamation claims often cross the threshold to engage Article 8 privacy rights. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that:

“In order for Article 8 to come into play, however, an attack on a person’s reputation must attain a certain level of seriousness and in a manner causing prejudice to personal enjoyment of the right to respect for private life…”

Claimants have to show the statement at issue is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation per s.1 Defamation Act 2013. This is typically via evidence such as circulation, subscribers and views of the statement at issue.

The defenses available to defamation are:

  1. Truth: That the statement itself was substantially true.
  2. Honest opinion: That the statement was one of opinion and that an honest person could have reasonably held that opinion.
  3. Public interest: That the matter was one which was in the public interest and the publisher of the statement reasonably believed it to be so.
  4. Privilege: This can be absolute (such as a Parliamentary statement) or qualified (e.g. job references). Qualified privilege does not protect the publisher of a statement where it was done so maliciously.

Citation: Article 8 and the “outside world”: privacy, reputation and employment – Hugh Tomlinson QC

An excellent and highly insightful piece written by Hugh Tomlinson QC on the application of the Article 8 right to privacy and a reconciliation with domestic law.

Inforrm's Blog

The Article 8 right to respect for private life has many facets and has often seemed in danger of uncontrolled expansion.  The Court of Human Rights has often noted that private life is “not susceptible to exhaustive definition”, embracing “multiple aspects of the person’s physical and social identity”. 

View original post 1,313 more words

Citation: INFORRM, Top 10 Defamation Cases of 2018: a selection – Suneet Sharma

A recent piece considering the most significant defamation cases over the previous year. Thanks goes to the INFORRM blog for their assistance.

Inforrm's Blog

Inforrm reported on a large number of defamation cases from around the world in 2018.  Following the widely read post on 2017 cases, this is my selection of the most legally and factually interesting cases from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and England from the past year. 

View original post 2,064 more words