Tweet in haste ~ Repent at leisure?

Former cricketer Chris Cairns has won his Court battle to advance his Twitter libel case against one of the sport's most powerful figures. The High Court in London has ruled that the Courts should consider more factors than just how many UK Twitter users saw the post and therefore Cairns can pursue his Twitter libel case further. Libel is defined as defamation by written or printed words. Defamation is the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. Allegedly, a Tweet posted by cricketing administrator Lalit Modi accused Cairns of match fixing and was libellous. Cairns had applied to feature in the auction for this year’s IPL tournament however Modi had rejected it following Cairns’ dismissal from the rival Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2008.  Cairns has strongly protested that his sacking from ICL club Chandigarh Lions was due to fitness issues. At the time of the alleged defamation, Modi was vice president of the Board of Cricketing Control for India (BCCI) and chairman and commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL). He was suspended from these positions in April and left those roles in September. New Zealander Cairns engaged a team of London-based libel lawyers to pursue the issue through the Courts, stating that the comments ‘completely destroyed me within the cricketing environment.’ Modi’s lawyers argued that the damages from any libel case would be so small as to be not worth fighting a case over, and so any case would be an abuse of the Court process. His QC, Desmond Browne, told the Court that if Cairns won the action, both the damages and the vindication would be minimal: ‘the cost of the exercise will have been out of all proportion...’ Cairns’ QC, Mr Caldecott, did not challenge Modi's argument that the Tweet was removed after 16 hours, but said there was a continuing real risk of wider publication. Justice Tugendhat ruled that the number of people to whom the message was communicated was only one of a number of considerations in a defamation case, adding; ‘Cairns has resided in this jurisdiction in the past, and expects to return to live here again.’ A real threat in such a case as this is that the statements at the centre of the claim might be more widely re-published. ‘A claimant’s primary concern in a libel action is vindication, not damages for what has been suffered in the past. So, the damage that has occurred before the action is brought may not give an indication of the importance of the claim.’ It was therefore held that a claimant could reasonably pursue a claim to prevent, or at least limit, further publications.

Published November 25, 2010

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