When social media leads to mediation
In the first case of its kind, Cripps Pemberton Greenish partner and head of Family, Alex Davies, and Managing Associate Joanna Ford, defamation specialist, discuss the recent libel case of Ronald and Nicola Stocker.
Alex discusses: “One of the more extraordinary changes I have seen in my years as a divorce lawyer is the rise of social media and the potential for marital arguments to spill over from the family home to email, texts and then on to Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram amongst others.
The recent media reporting of a libel case brought by Ronald Stocker against his ex-wife, Nicola Stocker might give us a taste of things to come in divorce disputes.
The former Mrs Stocker is being sued by her ex-husband after she left a post on the Facebook page of his new partner. She described an incident some nine years before when he had, allegedly, been violent to her after she accidently pricked him with a needle whilst trying to mend his trousers.
Traditionally, our society was happy to keep secret what was going on behind closed doors. Over the past 30 years or so, however, a huge spotlight has been shone on the very real social problems caused by domestic violence and law makers have had to respond. Family courts and criminal courts are now able to exercise a wide variety of powers to combat violence within families. You may have seen the domestic violence disclosure schemes that are run by a number of police services in partnership with others. Nicola Stocker, so it would appear, decided to take matters into her own hands when she learned of the identity of her ex-husband’s new partner. Her decision might just lead to a very expensive court case.
The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, is reported as warning the parties that he is ‘not going to conduct a retrospective divorce’. However, the endless possibilities that are now open to us on the internet might be leading family lawyers and their clients in a direction we had not planned. Maybe, in the future, those who are wealthy enough will litigate the right and wrongs of their marriage in the family court and then argue about the rights and wrongs of their divorce in the defamation court.”
Joanna comments: ” This case highlights the potential risk of posting comments on social media websites.
We live in an age where free expression and communication is positively encouraged by websites that enable you to air your views publicly. Any untrue remarks that could seriously damage the reputation of the person concerned can give rise to a libel claim, however, if they are communicated to a third party (someone other than the subject of the comment). This could be in a private message or by posting on a social media website such as Facebook.
The requirement for “serious harm” is a relatively recent change in the law to ensure that the courts are not plagued with trivial complaints that do not in reality impact on the reputation of the claimant. What constitutes “serious harm”, however, remains a hotly (and costly) debated point.”
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out.