Nicola Brookes – One Woman’s Fight against Facebook Trolls – A Ground Breaking Win For Pinder Reaux

A High Court Master recently granted an order compelling Facebook INC, based in Palo Alto California, in the United States of America to disclose all material relating to the identities of 7 offending trolls who harassed and abused Ms. Brookes online, via the Facebook Social Networking Site, over a period in excess of 9 months.

This decision of the High Court to grant such a disclosure order in a case concerning internet trolling is ground breaking.

Ms. Brookes was advised by us to take the unprecedented step of applying to the High Court for this disclosure order because the police refused to help her, despite her continued pleas for assistance.

Ms. Brookes’ case is unique and exceptional in many ways:

1. It is the first case where a disclosure order was granted by the High Court in a case of internet trolling;

2. It is the first case where the results of the disclosure order will be used to prosecute the trolls in the criminal courts

The High Court, upon hearing representations from us and from counsel Mr David Hirst of leading media chambers 5 Raymond Buildings, agreed to extend its jurisdiction to the USA and grant an order compelling Facebook, a United States based corporation, to reveal all details pertaining to the identity of these online trolls.

The High Court accepted the position advocated by us, namely that the harassment was so severe that it was in the interest of justice that the identity of the trolls be disclosed.

Facebook are inherently ‘mixed-up’ in the wrongdoing by being the owner/operator of the Facebook social networking site, where the online harassment took place, and furthermore, that Facebook are the only entity in possession of the trolls details, and therefore they are the correct party against which such an application should be made.

In making the application we used the rationale established in the case ofNorwich Pharmacal Co. & Others vCustoms and Excise Commissioners [1974] AC 133, which the High Court accepted as being the correct legal approach and duly granted the disclosure order (also known as a Norwich Pharmacal Order) against Facebook.

The High Court also agreed that for Ms. Brookes to obtain the overarching relief that she seeks, that being the private criminal prosecution of the trolls, under a whole array of available and applicable legislation, including The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, The Malicious Communications Act 1988, The Communications Act 2003, The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and The Public Order Act 1986, the granting of a disclosure order was a necessary means of achieving justice.

The disclosure order has now been formally served upon Facebook, and it is hoped that material identifying the trolls will begin flooding into our offices in the coming days.

The trolls currently hide behind online names and tags – such as Cuthbert Bollingsworth- Smythe. However, with the assistance of Facebook we will soon find out the real name of Mr Bollingsworth – Smythe and the names of the other online trolls.

As soon as sufficient material is received that identifies the offending trolls, a private prosecution will immediately be launched against them.

The message to the online trolls is that they will not get away with the way in which they have treated Ms. Brookes and that they will be brought to justice. This has been the goal of Ms. Brookes and Pinder Reaux from the moment this case began, and the granting of the disclosure order against Facebook is the first step towards achieving that justice.

The rarity of such a case, and the enormity what has been achieved by us on behalf of Ms. Brookes, is demonstrated by the interest that this has been afforded by the mainstream media. Even the controllers of the country stood up and took notice, with the case being considered in the Houses of Parliament as a substantive point in the initial discussions concerning the proposed new Defamation Bill.

Please see below links to various news articles that illustrate the sheer scale of the media interest in this ground breaking case.

Further developments will be published here in the coming 3-4 weeks as and when the material from Facebook arrives and the case against the trolls develops, so watch this space carefully.

John Spyrou

Associate Solicitor

Internet Law

Pinder Reaux and Associates