Can a ‘Tweet’ be defamatory? Chris Lance Cairns v. Lalit Modi [2010] EWHC 2859 (QB)

November 26, 2010

Broadcasting & Media, Defamation

Read the full case here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2010/2859.html

The case concerned a tweet on 5 January 2010 from the defendant, Lalit Modi, who at the time was both Chairman and Commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Vice-President of the Board of Cricketing Control for India (BCCI). Modi was later suspended from these positions in April and ceased to occupy them from September 2010. The case was further complicated by a claim against an online cricket magazine – Cricinfo UK who repeated the defendant’s words (although a New Zealand News site [http://tvnz.co.nz/cricket-news/chris-cairns-pushes-twitter-libel-case-3900692] states that Cricinfo has now paid Cairns unspecified damages).

Modi was alleged to have made comments in a tweet that the claimant had been sacked from an Indian Cricket League team (Chandigarh Lions) because of match-fixing, and not as Cairns states because of knee problems from a charity walk. While the original tweet was removed from LalitKModi’s profile 16hrs later, a cricketing blog [http://shortofalength.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/chris-cairns-banned-from-joining-the-ipl-yes-says-lalit-modi-on-twitter/] has uploaded an alleged screen capture of the tweet from cache – can anything ever be deleted anymore?!

Cairns, quite understandably perhaps, argued that this tweet was offensive and a libellous body blow; by contrast, Modi denied that any real or substantial tort occurred within the jurisdiction and brought proceedings to have the claim set aside [2] for abuse of process given its ‘trivial’ nature and speculative effect.

The High Court were therefore asked to draw a line in the crease, and in particular to answer whether a ‘tweet’ could be published and if so, how its readership could be calculated? Although Mr Justice Tugendhat heard conflicting evidence from two experts as to how publication could be determined from Modi’s followers on Twitter, ultimately Tugendhat J decided that the actual number of direct followers was irrelevant given the sensational nature of the allegation within the tweet [30] and the risk that these allegations might be further published elsewhere. Indeed, he held at [42] that the number of publishees was only one factor in an abuse of process claim. Cairns is therefore free to continue with this action to trial in order to protect and vindicate his reputation, any damages that follow this decision are very much a secondary consideration.

Watch this space, or should that be wicket…..?

Youtube Video of “Lalit Modi ‘On The Record’ – Full Interview”:

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About Kris

Associate Professor in Sports Law, Staffordshire University; British Gymnastics Senior Coach

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One Comment on “Can a ‘Tweet’ be defamatory? Chris Lance Cairns v. Lalit Modi [2010] EWHC 2859 (QB)”

  1. adele pace Says:

    Good balanced analysis. I have seen articles on this case that treat it as some kind of poster child for libel reform. I agree with the Judge that it is impossible to assess publication under these circumstances. If you read some of the experts’ testimony it isn’t very persuasive.

    Reply

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