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What the Cairns verdict teaches us about the special place of social media

Chris Cairns has been awarded £90,000 ($NZ178,000) damages in his High Court libel action over an accusation of match-fixing, and awarded £400,000 costs.

The action was brought by Mr Cairns against former Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi over posts Mr Modi made on social network Twitter in 2010. 

What does the case teach us about the special place of social media in libel law?


Well, nothing beyond there's nothing any different about Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn than any other public medium.

It may be the first example of sizable damages being awarded because of a tweet, "But otherwise case isn’t that remarkable," Chapman Tripp principal Justin Graham told NBR.
"It’s just the application of standard defamation principles to establish that if there is publication of defamatory matter that identifies the plaintiff, then there’s an action. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Twitter or some other medium."
Robust observations on witness credibility
Beyond the social media hoopla, Mr Graham sees two more interesting aspects to the case.

First, "The judge was prepared to make some robust observations on the credibility of witnesses - something that is less and less common in civil proceedings - which goes to show that if the defamatory allegation is that someone is a “liar” or similar, then very good evidence will be required to establish the truth of such an allegation."

Vindication over financial compensation
Second, "The costs award to Cairns is likely to be several times higher than the damages award," Mr Graham said.

"This demonstrates that defamation is an action about vindication of reputation rather than to secure true financial compensation. In fact, there may be few individuals who can afford such vindication. In other words, defamation is an action that it is difficult to make “pay its way”, even in the United Kingdom, and requires a very careful strategy."

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Comments and questions

Cairns had courage knowing any win / vindication could have been as low as $1, but his no win - no fee strategy allows such a punt.

Can some of the defence witnesses now be charged with perjury?