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Home » Latest News » High Court awards damages in Jack Munroe v Katie Hopkins Twitter libel case

High Court awards damages in Jack Munroe v Katie Hopkins Twitter libel case

High Court awards damages in Jack Munroe v Katie Hopkins Twitter libel case
“ This is a milestone case on the application of defamation law to social media and has been seen by some as setting a ‘tariff” in Twitter libel cases ”

In one of the first cases to define the new ‘serious harm’ threshold in defamation law, the one-time Apprentice contestant and controversial journalist Katie Hopkins was ordered to pay £24,000 for damages and a six-figure sum for costs to food blogger Jack Munroe for making libellous tweets, or ‘Twibel’ as it has become known.

Ruling in the case, Mr Justice Warby said that Twitter comments made by Ms Hopkins about Ms Munroe were defamatory and satisfied the requirements under the Defamation Act 2013.

The Defamation Act 2013 introduced a number of major changes to defamation law which “raised the bar” for claimants, including the new requirement to show that the statement in question has caused or is likely to cause ‘serious harm’ to their reputation. As a result, there has been some uncertainty about how the courts will interpret and apply this test, particularly in social media cases, and the number of defamation cases going through the courts has fallen significantly.

Ms Munroe complained about tweets made by Ms Hopkins accusing her of vandalising a war memorial and desecrating the memory of those who fought for her freedom, or of approving or condoning such behaviour. In a case of mistaken identity, Ms Hopkins tweeted to Ms Munroe “Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?”. The statement was in fact intended for another journalist, Laurie Penny, who had said she didn’t “have a problem” with seeing graffiti on a memorial to women of the Second World War. Ms Hopkins, apparently realising her error, deleted her original tweet but followed it up with one asking what the difference was between “irritant Penny and social anthrax Monroe”. Ms Hopkins refused to apologise and Ms Munro sued for libel. Ms Hopkins defended the claim on the basis that the tweets were not defamatory and it had not been shown that they caused serious harm to Ms Munroe’s reputation.

In the pioneering decision, the High Court published a 26-point guide to “How Twitter Works” as an appendix to the judgment, which can be found in full here.

 

In rejecting Ms Hopkins’ defence, Mr Justice Warby ruled “on a straightforward basis that the tweets complained of have a tendency to cause harm to this claimant’ reputation in the eyes of a third party, of a kind that would be serious for her” and that “fair and reasonable compensation” to be paid by Ms Hopkins to Ms Munroe should be assessed at £24,000. Ms Hopkins was also ordered to pay £107,000 on account of Ms Munroe’s legal costs, in addition to her own.

In his closing remarks, Mr Justice Warby also noted that the case could easily have been resolved at an early stage by an offer of amends under the Defamation Act 1996. Ms Munroe had also made a public offer to settle for £5,000 to be paid to a migrant rescue charity which it was said was “reasonable”.

Ms Hopkins has been refused permission to appeal the decision. Bridge McFarland litigation partner Mike Wilson said “This is a milestone case on the application of defamation law to social media and has been seen by some as setting a ‘tariff” in Twitter libel cases. It will be a blow to those hoping the new ‘serious harm’ test would make defamation actions more difficult to bring and should encourage the victims of defamatory tweets or comments that the law is on their side”.

“It is also a stark reminder to all social media users to pause and think about the impact of a tweet or comment before posting it, because the repercussions can be serious and very costly”.

Mike Wilson is a Partner and solicitor in the Dispute Resolution team at Bridge McFarland and can be contacted on 01482 320620 or mike.wilson@bmcf.co.uk.