England’s first Twitter libel (or twibel, to the converted) trial starts in the next few weeks, and could be a key ruling for journalists.
The case will establish the extent of libel risk on Twitter.
It involves former New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns, who is suing ex-Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi for stating on his Twitter page that Cairns had a ‘past record in match fixing in the Indian Premier League.’
Modi has already failed to get the case thrown out on the basis that the tweet was not widely read in England. The High Court gave the OK in November for the case to proceed as one of the UK’s latest ‘libel tourism’ claims.
Mr Cairns told the Daily Telegraph in 2010: “Until he [Modi] retracts what he has said, my name will always be tainted by the cheat label. Had he really had any concerns about my probity as a sportsman he could have called me at any time or instructed any of his executives to do the same. He chose not to.
“Instead he chose to make his allegation in public and to repeat it in public. For any doubting Thomases out there: I have never rigged a match.”
Cairns was captain of the Chandigarh Lions in the ICL and was sacked in 2008. He claims that was for fitness issues.
So far, Wales is the only country in the UK to have dealt with a Twitter libel. In March 2011, a Welsh councillor was ordered to pay damages after making a false claim about an election rival on Twitter
The English case will determine whether the courts follow the view expressed by top libel and privacy judge Mr Justice Eady in 2008 He said comments on internet ‘bulletin boards’were more likely to be slanderous than libelous. He compared them with people chatting in a bar.
In Twitter’s early days, some people questioned if it was possible to defame someone in 140 characters. But those doubts were dispelled by American singer Courtney Love, who used her Twitter account to describe Texas-based fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir as a ‘drug pushing prostitute’during a dispute over payment for clothes.
Love is currently being sued for another Tweet, this time by a law firm. She Tweeted: ‘I was fucking devastated when Rhonda J Holmes esq of San Diego was bought off. I’ve been hiring and firing lawyers to help me with this.”
The case Cairns v Modi starts at the beginning of March before Mr Justice Tugendhat.