Judge: Haddon-Cave J
Date of judgment: 25 Sep 2014
Summary: Application for an interim injunction in respect of alleged harassment via email, message boards and social media websites.
Christina Michalos QC (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: DMH Stallard
The Claimants were a group of companies/LLPs and one individual director (joined under CPR 19.6 as a representative for employees and directors of the companies). D was a former employee of one of the companies. It was alleged that over four years in sporadic periods D had harassed the Claimants, their customers and the wife of one of the directors. The harassment took the form of (i) emails sent openly by the D to directors and customers of the Claimants (ii) anonymous emails alleged to have been sent by D and (iii) contact via Facebook and LinkedIn. There were also defamatory anonymous postings on message boards. Some of the content made wholly unfounded and untrue defamatory allegations against the Claimants. The Claimants applied for an interim injunction to restrain the Defendant from harassment and publishing material on the internet or via any social media (whether defamatory or otherwise) naming the Claimants in connection with the specified defamatory allegations.
1. Whether an interim injunction should be granted restraining harassment.
2. Whether the injunction prohibiting posting on social media or on the internet naming the Claimants in connection with the defamatory allegations was prohibited by the law of freedom of expression or the rule in Bonnard v Perryman (the Court will not grant an interim injunction restraining publication of defamatory material if the D raises the defence of justification.)
Granting the injunction:
1. In respect of the primary harassment injunction, that the evidence showed a clear case of a course of conduct amounting to harassment in breach of the Protection From Harassment Act 1997.
2. In respect of the prohibition sought in respect of social media posting, applying Howlett v Holding  EWHC 41 and ZAM v CFW  EWHC 66, that (1) the defamatory allegations made were not the sort that could be advanced by responsible Counsel on the say so of the D and (2) that the draft order (which excluded good faith reports of the defamatory allegations to public authorities) struck the appropriate balance in the light of the gravamen of the harassment.
A common difficulty in internet/email harassment cases can be that the content of the harassing material may also be defamatory. The problem being that if the Defendant intends to justify the allegations the rule in Bonnard v Perryman militates against granting an injunction . This was an example of the Court following a line of authority to the effect that an injunction may nevertheless be granted on the basis of harassment if the Court concludes that reliance on the law of harassment is not an attempt to by-pass the law on freedom of expression.