Katie Hopkins has forged a successful career out of comments and columns most would deem controversial. Despite this, Hopkins' recent run in with writer and food blogger Jack Monroe is likely to make many, including Hopkins, think twice before making comments that could be deemed defamatory.
Monroe recently won a libel action which stemmed from a series of tweets resulting in an award of £24,000 in damages, and an interim payment of £107,000 in costs, which are yet to be assessed in full. This is the first judgment to address in detail the requirement to prove serious harm, as required by the Defamation Act 2013 (the "2013 Act").
The action arose from two tweets posted by Hopkins in May 2015 in relation to anti-austerity demonstrations in London in which a World War Two memorial had been vandalised. Monroe complained that the tweets accused her of vandalising a war memorial or of approving or condoning such behaviour. Monroe was quick to respond denying such allegations and informing Hopkins of her family's military history. Just 54 minutes after the original tweet Monroe made a public offer via twitter for Hopkins to issue a public apology and pay £5,000 to a charity to prevent any action being taken. The offer was not accepted.
Hopkins proceeded to delete the first tweet (having realised she had confused Monroe with journalist Laurie Penny), and posted a further tweet asking followers to explain the difference between Monroe and Penny. A couple of weeks later, Hopkins posted a further tweet acknowledging the mistake, but still failing to apologise.
The 2013 Act describes serious harm as "A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant."
Hopkins defended the claim insisting that the tweets did not cause Monroe serious harm as defined in the act.
Mr Justice Warby held that "whilst [Ms Monroe] may not have proved that her reputation suffered gravely", he was satisfied that the tweets had met the serious harm threshold set by s.1 of the 2013 Act.
Further, Mr Justice Warby also held that the publication of the tweets "not only caused Ms Monroe real and substantial distress, but also harm to her reputation which was serious, albeit not “very serious” or “grave”."
Mr Justice Warby's comments seem to suggest that the bar for serious harm is not as high as anticipated.
In closing observations, Mr Justice Warby commented that the case could have settled at an early stage upon Ms Monroe making an early open offer to settle for £5K which Warby J considered was a "reasonable offer". He also commented that there could have been an offer of amends under the Defamation Act 1996.
Hopkins has said that she will seek permission to appeal on the grounds that "there was no supporting evidence of harm produced to the court during the hearing."
The lesson to be taken from the above: think before you Tweet.