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Posting a message on social network site Twitter is free and can reach a wide audience in seconds but could it result in you paying over £1m and being engaged in a lengthy legal dispute?
In what is thought to be the first Twitter libel case in England, Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand cricket captain, was awarded damages by the High Court after an allegation was made on Twitter that he was involved in match fixing.
Philip Steele, a Solicitor at leading sports and media firm Brabners Chaffe Street, says that the case illustrates that care should be taken when posting messages online:
“The tweet at the centre of this case consisted of the publication of just 24 words to about 65 people and yet has resulted in an award of substantial damages. Whilst tweeting may appear on the face of it to be rather informal, the courts will apply the same legal test to such messages as comments published in national newspapers. Accordingly those using social networking sites should exercise caution before broadcasting messages online.”
Mr Cairns sued Lalit Modi, the former chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL), following words posted on Twitter on 5 January 2010 suggesting that Mr Cairns had been removed from the IPL by reason of match fixing. Interestingly, the facts of the case also brought into question whether certain other cricketers had been involved; however the judge, quite rightly, commented that it was unnecessary for him to “make findings about corruption by individuals other than Mr Cairns”.
In delivering his judgment, the judge found that “[d]espite prolonged searching and occasionally intrusive questioning about [Mr Cairns’] sporting, financial and personal life he had emerged essentially unscathed”; on the other hand, the judge found that Mr Modi had “singularly failed to provide any reliable evidence that Mr Cairns was involved in match fixing” and awarded damages on the basis that Mr Cairns was a professional cricketer of “good character and reputation”.
It has been reported that the damages together with Mr Modi’s potential liability for legal costs may well exceed £1m and the dispute may still not be over as Mr Modi has recently indicated on Twitter that he will be seeking to lodge an appeal. In the meantime, this case highlights the risk of posting messages online which may have an adverse impact on the reputation of others.