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Mosley orgy judge blocks web forum libel writ onslaught

No damages for 'mere vulgar abuse'

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The hearing before Justice Eady came about when Smith had issued a further 27 writs by April this year. They became subject of a High Court and then a Court of Appeal dispute over what should be disclosed. On 25 April court officials granted a stay on all pending action, citing potential abuse of process. Eady's decision confirmed the block.

The judge said insults thrown around on bulletin boards were "more akin to slander" [than libel]. The distinction is important in defamation law because to successfully sue for slander the claimant must be able to prove quantifiable monetary damage has been caused by a defamatory statement (except under specified circumstances, such as the slander suggests the claimant is unfit to do their job, or makes claims as to the sexual morality of a woman). It's the reason that you wouldn't be successfully sued for calling a politician, say, a "dodgy bastard" at the pub.

Clem Chambers, CEO of ADFVN said: "A lot of people in bulletin board land will be very happy. This is good news for all websites." He declined to discuss the specifics of the case. Smith's case against ADVFN for operating the bulletin board is on hold until he pays a £25,000 costs award, which given his unemployment, he says he is unable to comply with.

Barbs fired at Smith as a result of his first damages demands, paraphrased in the judgment, including that he was bankrupt, attempting to extort money, had no good reputation to protect, should be ashamed of himself, should grow up and had lost the plot. Noting that "many would be surprised to see any of this made the stuff of libel proceedings," Justice Eady said:

It is necessary to have well in mind the nature of bulletin board communications, which are a relatively recent development. This is central to a proper consideration of all the matters now before the court.

This has been explained in the material before me and is, in any event, nowadays a matter of general knowledge. Particular characteristics which I should have in mind are that they are read by relatively few people, most of whom will share an interest in the subject-matter; they are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out; those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or "give and take".

Smith argues that the judgment ignored many more damaging allegations.

Razi Mireskandari, a specialist in media and press law at Simons Muirhead and Burton*, said the judgment showed a "slight acceptance of modern practices" [by libel courts]. Justice Eady was firm that there is no free-for-all online, however. He said: "I would not suggest for a moment that blogging cannot ever form the basis of a legitimate libel claim. I am focusing only on these particular circumstances. It does seem to me appropriate to characterise these claims as totally without merit."

Despite the defeat, Smith vowed to fight on. "I am seeking to vindicate my name. They have damaged my reputation... they have done so with malice," he said. ®

*Disclosure: Mireskandari is retained by The Register.

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