Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Libel and Slander Suit goes electronic - the UK's first Twitter libel case


Thirukural 127:


When things to wrong – they turn worse to terrible.  You are the master of unspoken words !! It is a city and municipal board in Ghaziabad District approx 45 km away from the Capital Delhi, founded in 1933 by a person who established the Industrial group here.

Stories of 2 persons :

He had reasonable success in his career though not justifying his talent.  Played 62 Tests making 3320 runs with 5 centuries; 4950 runs in 215 ODIs – 4 centuries, the first of which came at Pune.  Took 218 wickets in Tests and 201 in One dayers. Retired somewhat early from Tests in 2004; ODI in 2006, played in ICL.  The New Zealand Herald compared his retirement to those of Michael Jordan and Bj√∂rn Borg.  His father was known to a swing bowler with an unorthodox 'front on' action who  took 130 Test Match wickets and 89 ODI wickets and a man feared for his club hits.

That is Christopher Lance Cairns and the latter statistics are that of his father Bernard Lance Cairns. 

The other man  a sharp, Sharp, brash, ruthlessly ambitious, and admired and reviled in equal measure – the man who took Indian Cricket administration to greater heights filling its coffers with crores of money and then suddenly plunging into all sorts of controversies.  It was a remarkable turn around for BCCI which once was sought to pay for telecast of matches in DD to minting crores of money – the famous Indian Premier League was conceived and effectively put into action (auction) by him.  The city in first para is Modinagar, founded by Gujarmal Modi whose scion is Lalit Modi, who owns the Modi Mills and other group of institutions. 

Yes it is - , Lalit Modi changed the landscape of cricket before exiting the stage controversially.  Many would have forgotten the fact that he was the  Chairman and Commissioner of the Indian Premier League and the Chairman of the Champions League, between 2008 and 2010. A country obdurated to all forms of Cricket, Modi introduced the League of Clubs thereby taking the Board to an economic powerhouse, capable of challenging all National boards and ICC.  His rise to the top was stunning revelation – soon top VIPs vied for a session with him as he was the driving force of the commercial activities of the Board ensuring revenue flow of billion of dollars.  He waved a trap of his own and his words dug a grave in 2010 and making a messy fall out, getting himself into various legal issues. 

Chris Cairns with all his big hitting had not reached the greatest of summits and faded out of International arena soon after captaining Black Caps on 7 occasions, mostly when regular captain Fleming was not available.    Now he is in the news as he  has been awarded damages of £90,000. The former New Zealand allrounder, has won his libel case against Lalit Modi and has been awarded damages of £90,000 ($142,000) – approx Rs.73 lakhs.  Modi was also ordered to pay costs - which amounted to around £1.5 million ($2.4 million) - by the judge, David Bean, who delivered his judgement on Monday morning. Neither Cairns nor Modi was present in court.  The verdict  left Cairns happier as he stated that the dark cloud over him stands cleared and that he had the courage to stand up and defend his name.  It was the libel suit of Cairns against the former IPL chairman in the UK's first Twitter libel case over a defamatory tweet sent in January 2010, in which Modi referred to Cairns' alleged involvement in match-fixing as the reason for barring him from the IPL auction. Cairns brought the matter to court, saying the allegations threatened to reduce his cricketing achievements to "dust".  Justice Bean, however, said that Modi had "singularly failed to provide any reliable evidence" that Cairns was involved in match-fixing or spot-fixing or even that there were strong grounds for suspicion that he was.  The judge also said Cairns was entitled to an injunction, preventing the accusations from being repeated.  Modi is quoted as saying that he had received the judgment and considering an appeal.

The case centred on the reason for Cairns' suspension and dismissal from the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a rival Twenty20 league to the IPL. Cairns captained the Chandigarh Lions in the ICL but had his contract cancelled shortly after the start of the third edition in October 2008. The official reason given was Cairns' failure to disclose an ankle injury but Modi's legal team argued that this was an orchestrated "cover-up" to conceal his involvement in corrupt activity.  The court heard evidence from several of Cairns' former Chandigarh team-mates, who made various claims against him.

Even in an unofficial league cricket,  things can go so murkier is revealed by the fact that there were so many of cricketers who played for this franchisee who stated so many things, most of which were not believed by the Justice.  It is stated that Modi was given 28 days to settle with Cairns, as well as to make an interim payment of £400,000 in costs to the claimant's legal team.   Very costly indeed for ‘one 24-word tweet’ the could cause so much of potential damage !!   Sure it was read only a handful of people in England and Wales,  but the damages awarded reflect the unquantifiable reach of such an accusation;  besides Modi would have incurred hefty legal fees in defending the case, albeit unsuccessfully.

The judgment underlies the fact that there lies little difference between Twitter and slander (spoken, rather than written, defamation); and the judge referred to internet gossip as being of "little significance" when compared to a statement made by one of "the most powerful men in cricket".   There was some allegation that a particular player was told to score less than 5 runs in an innings and some payment was made via Dubai bank account for work on behalf of an Indian diamond trader – all bring incalculable harm and casts doubts on the way the game is played.

This libel court was heard at ‘The Royal Courts of Justice’, commonly called the Law Courts in London, England. Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander  and libel — refers to a malicious, false and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images.

Restraining one’s senses is of utmost importance – the most important being controlling one’s tongue.  If not one will have to undergo untold miseries – is the meaning of the starting lines quoted from Thirukural.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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