Times caption: Nicola Stocker was said to be “delighted” with the Supreme Court’s ruling (ANTHONY DEVLIN/PA WIRE)
Another miscarriage of justice to make a woman unaccountable for her actions. A piece by Jonathan Ames, Legal Editor, in today’s Times, emphases ours:
Wealthy men should think twice before using the courts “to silence” those who speak out about their controlling behaviour, campaigners said yesterday after a woman won a libel battle against her ex-husband.
The Supreme Court overturned two previous rulings that Nicola Stocker had defamed her former husband, Ronald Stocker, on Facebook by posting a comment that he had once “tried to strangle her”. Five judges agreed that the original trial judge and the Court of Appeal had relied too heavily on a traditional dictionary definition of the words and had failed to take account of the social media context.
Speaking to The Times, Ms Stocker, 51, said that she “hoped the ruling will send a message to men who behave in a similar way. They should think twice before trying something like this.”
She added: “My husband behaved in a very controlling manner during our marriage and since facing this legal case I have learnt a lot about coercive and controlling behaviour [J4MB: Straight out of the feminist lexicon] — and how the law and libel law can be used to continue to perpetrate that behaviour.”
The couple’s marriage ended in 2010 and two years later Ms Stocker began a Facebook exchange with her former husband’s new partner, Deborah Bligh. In those posts she alleged to Ms Bligh that he had “tried to strangle” her.
Ms Stocker went on to claim that the businessman had been removed from their home after threatening her on several occasions. She also claimed that there were “gun issues” and that the police had taken the view that Mr Stocker had broken the terms of a non-molestation order.
In response Mr Stocker 68, brought defamation proceedings against her. He claimed that the meaning of the words “tried to strangle me” were that he had tried to kill her.
At the High Court hearing in 2016, lawyers for Ms Stocker denied that the words bore that meaning and claimed instead that they would be understood to mean that Mr Stocker had grasped her by the neck and inhibited her breathing so as to put her in fear of being killed. Mr Justice Mitting, the High Court judge who heard the claim, said he referred to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the verb “strangle” and decided that Ms Stocker’s post meant that he had tried to kill her.
Court of Appeal judges agreed with Mr Justice Mitting, but yesterday, five judges on the Supreme Court, led by Lord Reed, its deputy president, overturned that finding.
Summarising its ruling, the court said that it was “unwise to search a Facebook post for its theoretical or logically deducible meaning. The search for meaning should reflect that this is a casual medium in the nature of a conversation rather than a carefully chosen expression. People scroll through Facebook quickly and their reaction to posts is impressionistic and fleeting.”
Mr Stocker, who faces a legal bill of several hundred thousand pounds, said he was “disappointed” by the judgment.
The case has been watched by proponents of free speech on social media and domestic violence campaigners. Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, [J4MB: Julie Bindel’s partner] said it was “a victory for common sense and a defeat for wealthy men who think they can use the courts to control and silence their former partners”.
David Price, QC, Ms Stocker’s lawyer, said it was disappointing that “the case had to run for five and a half years and require a trip to the Supreme Court for common sense to emerge”.
You can subscribe to The Times here.
If everyone who read this gave us £5.00 – or even better, £5.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. £5.00 monthly would entitle you to Bronze party membership, details here. Benefits include a dedicated and signed book by Mike Buchanan. Click below to make a difference. Thanks.