The Practicalities of Suing the Twitter Community – The Lord McApline Story

Lord McAlpine has no doubt had a stressful week. This may be considered an understatement given the damage that his reputation has suffered. The settlement monies paid by the BBC for damages to his reputation are unlikely to provide much recompense for this.

Lord McAlpine’s specialist defamation lawyers, Reid Minty have now indicated their intention to take action against anyone on Twitter who contributed to the damaging comments that linked him (unlawfully) to the abuse of children. One of the most high profile Tweeters on this topic was Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The intention of Lord McAlpine’s specialist defamation solicitors, could well lead to a landmark case that sees numerous Twitter users sued for libel defamation, following their contribution to this issue. Practically this could involve the provision of numerous Norwich Pharmacal Orders, if the Twitter users were posting anonymously and then the issue of substantive proceedings against them. Furthermore, Lord McAlpine’s lawyers will look into the issue of the seriousness of each of the comments and the length of time which they were online, as they will not want any substantive proceedings struck out early following an abuse of process arguments. They will have to ensure that any claim they bring against the Tweeters must be “a game worth the candle” in comparison with the cost and court time likely to be expended in determining it.

It may be the case that Lord McAlpine will simply be seeking apologies from those involved in making the allegations against him, especially those more high profile contributors such as Ms. Bercow. This may be an agreeable conclusion to this matter, especially for those Tweeters currently worried about their involvement in this matter. Given the amount of interest this story gained, the volume of apologies that Lord McApline will be receiving is likely to be substantial.

Although there have been murmurs recently as to the battle between free speech and libel defamation on the internet, this case against multiple Twitter users, should Lord McAlpine proceed with it, could mark a huge turning point, and see the end of ‘trial by social media’.

John Spyrou

Head of Media and Internet Law

Pinder Reaux & Associates