Full case report

Smith v ADVFN Plc & Ors (No 2)

Reference [2008] EWHC 1797 (QB)
Court Queens Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 25 Jul 2008


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Stay – Postings on internet bulletin board – Whether to be treated as libels or slanders


Facts

The Claimant issued separate libel proceedings against the host of a financial services website and a very large number of users who posted arguably defamatory messages on a bulletin board hosted on the website.


Issue

Whether a stay imposed by the Senior Master on the various proceedings launched by the Claimant should continue.


Held

The stay was continued for an unspecified period.


Comment

The judge was troubled by a number of unusual circumstances, perhaps particularly that the claimant had issued a very substantial number of claims (and paid for none, being unemployed) on a somewhat indiscriminate basis against many unrepresented users, none of whom would have expected that their often trivial internet jottings would be examined in the High Court. The interest of the case lies not so much in the robust decision to continue the stay, as in Eady J’s novel observation that postings on bulletin board discussion groups are much more akin to slander than to libel. There is sense in the point, but the essential difference between libel and slander is that libel is permanent and slander is transitory. Postings on a bulletin board may be akin to speech, but unlike speech they are permanent and accessible, even though they may not be re-read once the ‘thread’ has moved on. This point will be revisited by the courts.


Instructing Solicitors

Edwin Coe for the Claimant; Field Fisher Waterhouse for ADVFN