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Blogger Defamation Case ‘Another Example Of Changes In Online World’

Woman Ordered To Pay Damages To Council Official


By Rob Dixon

A case in which a blogger has been ordered to pay damages to a council chief executive over comments published online is another example of how defamation law fits into the online world, according to a legal expert.

Jacqueline Thompson has been ordered to pay £25,000 in damages to Mark James of Carmarthenshire County Council, after she undertook a campaign of sending letters, emails and publishing blog posts about him.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat stated that the claim by the council and Mr James was not related to Mrs Thompson maintaining a blog which was critical of them, but more related to allegations of corruption which were deemed false or without foundation.

He added that the internet had made it easier for people to conduct “campaigns of vilification”, which have existed for centuries.

Rebekah Finch, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office who specialises in libel and defamation, said the case is another example of the impact that the growth of social media has had on these areas of law.

She outlined: “One aspect which marks this case out as different to others is how harassment and defamation are actually two separate causes of action, yet the scenario that this case revolves around actually involves both issues.

“It demonstrates that if a person causes another person distress as a result from tweets or other postings online on at least two occasions, this could amount to harassment. A person who harasses another could face civil proceedings and it can also lead to a criminal conviction.”

Rebekah added: “Ultimately though, the main lessons to be learned are that people who use social media need to think carefully about the content and comments they post to the world at large, particularly as a growing number of cases are being seen in which people have reacted to issues without properly considering the consequences of their actions.

“While this case relates to a council official, it must be remembered that reputational issues are not just something that people in the public eye need to deal with. Any individual, company, partnership, and some other organisations may bring proceedings and seek damages from those responsible.

“We would always urge anyone with concerns over reputational or harassment issues to seek advice as soon as possible.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution