Online troll ordered to pay £10,000 for anonymous abuse

Posted: November 16, 2016

The High Court has granted relief against an unknown defendant who posted defamatory articles on a satirical website.  The claimant, a former borough councillor, was falsely accused of various serious sexual offences.  The judge granted default judgment and injunctive relief.  He also awarded £10,000 in damages, the maximum available on a summary disposal, in light of the need for vindication.

Availability of relief against persons unknown

The ability of the court to provide protective injunctive relief against persons unknown has long been recognised.  The persons unknown must be capable of identification by description in such a way as to identify with sufficient certainty those who are included within the order and those who are not.  This criterion is satisfied if the unknown persons can be described as “persons unknown responsible for the operation and publication of the website [ … ]”, which they clearly could be in this case.

Comment

The decision is consistent with the existing law in this area and has further highlighted the court’s willingness to look at substance rather than form.  In this case there was no doubt that the defendant was aware that proceedings had been served.  Not to proceed due to the absence of the defendant would have unjustly delayed proceedings and led to further costs, and would have been against the interests of the overriding objective.

It is questionable, however, whether the injunctive relief and order for damages will be effective: it is likely that enforcement will be necessary in this respect.  But the value in this judgment really lies in the declaration of falsity, as without it the claimant would have had those wholly false allegations hanging over him forever, which would have had an insidious effect on his reputation, given that people often assume “there is no smoke without fire”.  He now has the benefit of a court order to counteract such damage.

Jon Oakley and Rose Croshaw

To read the full article, click here.  Article written for Entertainment Law Review.