UK Court Says You Can't Be Defamed If The Article You're Complaining About Doesn't Even Mention You

from the but-now-lots-of-people-may-know-about-it dept

We've had plenty of posts in the past about the insane broadness of UK defamation law, which often effectively puts the burden on the accused to prove they didn't defame the accuser. However, sometimes, at least, they seem to get things right. A lawyer, Robin Tilbrook, who is also the chair of a political party, took offense and sued a blogger for defamation over a blog post that called the political party "racist." The blogger, Stuart Parr, asked for summary judgment and got it, as the court found that since Parr never even referred to Tilbrook directly, the defamation claim couldn't stand.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said: "The main issue before the court in this application is whether the words complained of are capable of being understood as referring to the claimant.

"The claimant is not named. Nor do the Particulars of Claim set out any facts relied on which might be known to any particular publishees, and no publishees are identified."
What strikes me as amusing about all of this is that, by suing and complaining that this was defamatory, it seems that Tilbrook has done much more to connect himself to that comment and to draw attention to it. I'm still amazed that, in this day and age, anyone in politics gets so offended by the things people say about them online. But, even worse than worrying about it, is calling attention to yourself when you're not even named in a post. If you can't do those kinds of things right, it certainly raises questions about your skills for actually being in government.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 3:22am

    the only skills needed to be in government are:-

    a)how to lie whilst keeping an 'i am not really lying' face on

    b)how to accept 'encouragement' in the various forms available from those that want you to do specific things for them only

    simples!!

     

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    McFortner (profile), Jul 17th, 2012 @ 3:36am

    And the sad part is we keep voting idiots like this into office.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 3:41am

      Re:

      We do NOT vote idiots like this into office. This guy is involved with the English Democrats, which are an extremist party who have a tendency of not liking muslims.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 4:03am

        Re: Re:

        ' #4

        give me the name of a politician that hasn't got specific likes/dislikes, bias/non-bias, prejudice/non-prejudice towards something or some section of the community and he'll be doing what was said previously, lying whilst keeping a 'i am not really lying' face on! if you think differently, fine. it will just make the shock of the truth dawning on you hurt that much more!

         

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      Bengie, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 5:11am

      Re:

      There are stories about cases where only one person ran for office and no one liked that person so no one voted for them. The person got into office because they voted for theirself.

      Many political d-bags don't get into office because the public votes them in, but because of lack of qualified options and they win by default.

       

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    relghuar, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 3:41am

    ...it certainly raises questions...

    Nah, actually in this day and age, it shows you're just the man for the job...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 4:45am

    Tilbrook is a wanker

    Who is sad that Techdirt isn't going to rename it to The Tilbrook Effect.

     

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    Duke (profile), Jul 17th, 2012 @ 4:52am

    Skimming the judgment...

    Reading through the judgment (which can be found here), it seems the judge simply applied the general principle of English defamation that you cannot defame too wide a group. Despite being a solicitor, Tilbrook shot himself in the foot where (as noted at 17 in the judgment) he alleged that, by calling the English Democrats "racist" the defendant had, by extension, called all its members, including him, "racist". Thus if he can claim, all of them can claim - but all of them can't claim (as that would be too wide a class) so he can't claim either.

    For those interested, the reason he had to try to sue personally was that, as a general rule, political parties (or senior political figures) cannot bring defamation claims under English law; something about the importance of political speech with regard to freedom of expression.

    The English Democrats seem to have a small number of elected officials, at the local level, but most look to be defections from the BNP. So the English Democrats are the members of the BNP who are so nationalistic/racist they don't even like Scots, the Irish or the Welsh?

    [That said, the principle behind the party - that England is under-represented politically - is a reasonable one.]

     

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      The eejit (profile), Jul 17th, 2012 @ 5:02am

      Re: Skimming the judgment...

      The English Democrats were originally part of the BNP, for the most part. The BNP is a political party that actually had its highest members applaud Nazism, and most of them actually have race-related convictions (Assault and the like). The English Democrats were trying to get rid of that taint, but are currently failing miserably outside of Birmingham and Bradford.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 7:51am

      Re: Skimming the judgment...

      ...the judge simply applied the general principle of English defamation that you cannot defame too wide a group.

      Fwiw, that principle runs deep enough that it's been carried into the common law of most states in the US.

       

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    Stephen Gash, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 6:07am

    How about defaming Islam?

    However, Muslims want to make defaming Islam a crime called "Islamophobia".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    The burden of proof in defamation is on the defended as there the one acting as the accuser.

    e.g There the one accusing you of be the pirate king, so accusing you of running a organisation of people
    that on seas commit criminal acts of piracy, rape, murder and theft.

    Just like in Criminal Law were the Crown is accusing some of an offence.

    And as Duke said. You can no defame a group of persons. Also they probably could have won with Truth or fair comment defence.

     

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    He is, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    He is

    a known child molester.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2012 @ 7:18pm

    Defendant displays a generic garment and plaintiff claims it's cut to his fit.

    What a complete idiot.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 1:55am

    I completly agree, if he was silly enough to bring this blog and post to the attention of the public, then he really doesn't understand the way he should be leading his party. The only thing im going to do now is connect HIS name with the RACIST comment. Well done Mr MP. Really helped yourself there didn't you. I didn't say any names did i? ... Oh good, no.

     

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    H Klang (profile), Aug 31st, 2012 @ 12:08pm

    Mike, you are a great journalist and commentator, but I am afraid that both you and Mr Justice Tugendhat are mixed up. Mr Tilbrook was suing precisely because he wasn't mentioned in the article and so his name was not connected with racism in the public eye. How else can he reach his base constituency except through the media?

     

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