The Supreme Court recently examined the interpretation of a Facebook post that has generated years of litigation and legal costs exceeding £200,000. This is just one example of the level than an ex-spouse might go to in order to protect their reputation on social media. Ronald and Nicola Stocker divorced in 2012. In December of that year, Ms Stocker befriended Mr Stocker’s new partner on Facebook and during a period of communication between the pair posted on her wall: “Last time I accused him of cheating, he spent a night in the cells, tried to strangle me”. Mr Stocker issued a claim in libel against his ex-wife. The High Court initially examined the interpretation of the words “tried” and “strangle” with reference to the Oxford English Dictionary and determined that Ms Stocker’s post implied that Mr Stocker was a “dangerous man” and implied to the ordinary reader that he had tried to kill her when the incident took place in 2003. He added that although there was an element of truth to the allegation that she may have been strangled, as the police had been called and handprints were found on Ms Stocker’s neck, his intention was “to silence, not to kill”. The decision was not overturned on appeal, leaving Ms Stocker with legal costs of over £200,000. She appealed to the Supreme Court. Last month, Ms Stocker’s representative argued to the Supreme Court that the court’s interpretation of what constituted a “dangerous man” was incorrect and that it was justified to call, or imply, that somebody was dangerous if they left sufficient red marks on their ex-wife’s neck that were still evident when the police arrived some 2 hours later. Her Counsel also argued that the phrase “tried to strangle” was “a common way of describing an assault involving a constriction of the neck or throat where the victim is alive” and that it “does not convey an intent to kill in ordinary language”. He added that “The perpetrator of such serious domestic violence should not be able to come to court and argue libel and ask for damages”. The Supreme Court has reserved its decision. The case has raised debate regarding costs proportionality between cases brought by hostile ex-spouses and more importantly, whether individuals, and particularly victims of domestic violence, can be silenced from publicising their experiences by being faced with protracted and costly litigation. It also highlights the importance in giving careful consideration to posting online.
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