​“To Tweet or Not to Tweet? That is the Question”

26 April 2017

Author: Olivia O'Kane
Practice Area: Media and Defamation

Olivia_o'kane

In the matter of Monroe v Hopkins [2017] EWHC 433 (QB), one may come away asking that very question. In a World where most of us are already publishers, it is perhaps puzzling if not a stark warning, when two experienced journalists find themselves in a legal battle over tweets. That old adage of ‘be careful what you tweet’ or ‘you are what you tweet’ should not be forgotten. Monroe, a well-known food blogger and cooking journalist. Hopkins, an equally well known journalist, a radio host and columnist for a national newspaper.

Following the 2015 general election the memorial to the women of World War II was vandalised during an anti-austerity demonstration. Laurie Penny, a columnist for the New Statesman, posted tweets under the twitter name @PennyRed condoning the vandalism.

Nine days later, the defendant tweeted the following:

"@MsJackMonroe scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got anymore medals?".

The defendant later deleted the tweet before she posted a further tweet:

"Can someone explain to me - in 10 words or less - the difference between irritant @PennyRed and social anthrax @Jack Monroe".

The claimant complained that those tweets accused her of vandalising a war memorial and desecrating the memory of those who fought for her freedom, or of approving or condoning such behaviour. The claimant subsequently commenced proceedings against the defendant for defamation.

This is what fell to be determined before the Court:

(i)what meanings were borne by the tweets;

(ii)whether those meanings had a defamatory tendency; and

(iii)if so, whether it had been proved that the serious harm requirement was met as set out in s 1 of the Defamation Act 2013.

The court found that the serious harm test had been met, stating that the “Serious Harm requirement is satisfied, on the straightforward basis that the tweets complained about have a tendency to cause harm to this claimant’s reputation in the eyes of third parties, of a kind that would be serious for her”.

The court found that the natural and ordinary meaning conveyed by the first tweet and the innuendo meaning conveyed by the second tweet were defamatory. The court found that whilst the claimant may not have proved that her reputation suffered gravely, she established that the publications complained of caused serious harm to her reputation, and thereby met the threshold set by s 1 of the 2013 Act.

Ultimately a whopping amount of £24,000 was awarded in compensation to the claimant.

It doesn’t end there . . .

Hopkins subsequently sought permission to appeal the original decision to award Monroe damages. The issue before the judge was whether the court had jurisdiction to grant permission to appeal on the basis of E&W Civil Procedure Rules 52.3 (2)(a) which states that permission to appeal should be made “at the hearing at which the decision to be appealed was made”.

The application for permission to appeal was made some two weeks after judgment was handed down and after the order was sealed. Both parties were in attendance when judgment was handed down and no application to appeal was made at that point. The case of Multiplex Constructions (UK) Ltd v Honeywell Control Systems Ltd [2007] EWHC 236 (TCC) was considered and in this case the court held that a judge could hear an application for permission to appeal against his own decision if the order reflecting his judgment had not been sealed. In the instant case the order had been sealed two days before the application to appeal had been advanced.

The court refused Ms Hopkins application and any appeal application to the High Court should have been made when the judgment was handed down. As no application was made at that stage, any application now had to be made directly to the Court of Appeal.

We will keep you posted on any further updates but in the meantime, don’t forget to ask yourself before self-publishing, “To Tweet or Not to Tweet? That is the Question” but if in doubt, no matter how small or how big, seek legal advice.

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