“Angry people are not always wise”. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
We all get angry at times but the important thing is how we act when this happens.
Lashing out against others in public, is usually not be the best way to proceed when faced with a difficult situation.
Two recent court cases in 2016 very clearly demonstrate that there can be severe implications of making reputationally damaging statements about someone else in public (called ‘defamation’ once it gets into the legal arena).
In the first of these court cases, Stocker v Stocker, Mr Stocker sued his ex-wife for libellous written statements. The focus of the law suit was the content of an email and comments that she made on the Facebook page of his new partner, Mrs Bligh.
Mrs Stocker stated amongst other things, that Mr Stocker attempted to kill her some 10 year earlier and that he was a dangerous man.
The judge hearing this case observed that: “The libel was not trivial. Painting the false picture that he was a dangerous man to the Facebook friends of Mrs Bligh was intended to be and was damaging to his reputation.”
In its judgement, the court found in favour of Mr Stocker and awarded him £5,000 damages; an amount that was calculated based on the limited circulation of the post. Mr Stocker declined the £5,000 award. More significantly for Mrs Stocker, she was also ordered to pay the estimated legal costs of the law suit, which amounted to nearly £200,000. This was accompanied by an interim payment obligation of £140,000 within 28 days.
The most recently reported case, called Barron and Healey v Vines, was concerned with calculating the right level of money owed by a Mr Vines, a former UKIP leader in Rotherham. Previously in 2015, Mr Vines was found to have made false allegations against two MP’s during a Sky News interview in 2015. In the interview Mr Vines accused two Labour MP’s, Rt Hon John Healey and Sir Kevin Barron, of knowing about a child sexual exploitation scandal and failing to act on that knowledge.
Both men took legal action against Vines. In April 2015, the court found in their favour but left the damages to be assessed until now. The damages have now been assessed and in a judgment earlier this month, the UK High Court awarded damages in the amount of £40,000 to each of the MP’s. Vines was also ordered to pay the legal costs of the two MP’s for the 18 month case, including an order for £30,000 to be paid upfront within 28 days. It’s not yet clear what the final cost implications will be for Mr Vines, but it’s likely to substantial.
It’s fair to say that a lot of defamation claims settle before reaching a courtroom. Those that don’t, like these ones, usually end up costing a lot of money.
There is a Chinese proverb that I think applies really well to these kinds of situation: ‘If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow’… and arguably, hundreds of thousands of pounds of liability!
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In the first libel trial of 2016, Mr Justice Mitting found that the claimant, Ronald Stocker, had been defamed by his ex-wife, Nicola Stocker, in a post on his new partner’s Facebook page. The Judge rejected Mrs Stocker’s argument that the allegations she had made were substantially true and assessed compensation in the sum of £5,000. He added, however, that he was not making an award of damages because Mr Stocker had indicated that he did not want one.