Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers have secured $700,000 in damages for their clients, and landed a blow on online trolls, following a significant online defamation judgment from the WA Supreme Court.
Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers has secured $700,000 in damages for their clients, and landed a blow on online trolls, following a significant online defamation judgment from the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
The judgment serves as a reminder to the public they are accountable in real life for what they say online.
Between 2004 and 2012 the defendant, Perth man Terry McLernon, published highly defamatory material against three Perth businessmen on a series of websites accessible worldwide. The Supreme Court on Friday found that the individual concerned dispensed “liberal amounts of poison over the internet”, and awarded the defendant to pay a total of $700,000 in damages, indemnity costs for the plaintiffs’ legal fees, and permanently restrained him from posting similar material again.
In WA the maximum damages award is capped and Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers, acting for the plaintiffs Anton Billis, Oliver Douglas and Paul Matich, said the damages awarded are a “significant amount” in the context of a defamation action.
In his ruling the Honourable Justice Kenneth Martin said sections of the public still held the incorrect belief that comments they make online about others are not subject to the laws of defamation.
“Consequently, there is a lingering misapprehension that anything at all can be posted concerning another person over the internet – no matter how defamatory or scandalous the uploaded material may be – and that the posted material will enjoy a complete immunity. That perception is wrong…,” the Honourable Justice Kenneth Martin said.
Tindall Gask Bentley lawyer Samuel Joyce, who acted for the businessmen concerned, said the judgment dealt a significant blow to online trolls – who are often people with little or no assets and think they have nothing to fear.
“Trolls should beware”, Mr Joyce said.
“As the judge said, people who appoint themselves as internet crusaders, and think they are fully at liberty to defame people on the internet while promoting themselves and hiding behind their lack of assets should think twice.
“This judgment completely vindicates the Perth businessmen concerned. They were trolled for an extended length of time. This judgment serves as strong warning to anyone who thinks they have nothing to lose by posting defamatory material online even though they have no assets.
“The plaintiffs were awarded the significant sum because the court considered what Justice Martin called the severe and brazen content of these publications and the lack of any remorse about them.
“Our clients sought to hold the defendant to account for the publications that defamed them. They succeeded, and he was also restrained from ever publishing similar material about them again. Even though they are unlikely to ever recover their compensation from the individual concerned, the court found that there was a need to award damages at a high level to send a clear message to the community that the online publications that said shocking things about them have been assessed as ‘baseless and unjustified’ and that is what it did. This judgment shows that there are severe consequences for publishing defamatory material online.”
The law surrounding defamation is complex. However, with the dramatic increase in social media and blogging in recent years it is now easier than ever for individuals to post material on a global scale with a simple click of a button, often whilst remaining faceless behind a keyboard.