The case of Lord Robertson suing the Sunday Herald for defamation over an item posted to its internet message board will have set a few newspaper managers’ teeth on edge. In pursuing his action, Nato’s general secretary follows in the footsteps of Dr Laurence Godfrey, who won damages from internet service provider Demon in 1999. There are parallels. In both cases, the offending message was posted by a random contributor. In both cases, the operators were unaware of the message until it was brought to their attention. Both could have long-term implications for newspaper websites.
The Herald’s defence, as with Demon’s, is likely to hinge on whether “reasonable steps and adequate care” were taken to prevent a libel. Operators of message boards all over Scotland – where this is a test case – and indeed the rest of the UK will be watching this one with real interest.