The High Court has ordered a barrister to disclose messages posted on a now dormant Twitter account as well as details of who had access to it in order to assist potential victims of alleged libel and harassment. The ruling, against personal injury specialist Daniel Bennett, who formerly practised from the Bristol outpost of Doughty Street Chambers, concerns a Twitter account in the name of ‘Harry Tuttle’ which has been described as a pro-Corbyn footsoldier’ in the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
In Collier & Ors v Bennett, three campaigners against anti-Semitism sought Norwich Pharmacal orders or, alternatively, pre-action disclosure, of deleted tweets and the surrounding metadata. Bennett, who according to the judgment has publicly accepted responsibility for the Harry Tuttle account, has declined to answer whether he is the author of the contested tweets.
Bennett argued that the claimants had not met the pre-requisites for disclosure and were conducting a 'fishing' exercise. He also said the publications were outside limitation. The Honourable Mr Justice Saini however ruled that Bennett’s arguments ignored the fact that 'this is by definition a claim seeking material at an early stage'.
He added: 'It also seems to sit ill in the mouth of the claimed publisher of alleged libels who has deleted the publications… to pick holes in the claimants’ cases as to publication.'
The judge ruled that two of the three claimants’ cases met the conditions required for a Norwich Pharmacal order. 'It is part and parcel of the claimants’ common law rights of access to justice to identify and sue in a public process those who have arguably defamed them.' He added that: 'The law does not recognise the ability of one joint tortfeasor to hide others by taking on liabilities himself.'
Two of the three claimants' cases also met the requirements for pre-action disclosure of documents, the judge said. He suggested that Bennett disclose all the contested tweets and metadata in the form of a witness statement.
Earlier in the judgment, Saini J lambasts the behaviour of the parties' solicitors over 'a lengthy and, I regret to say, often intemperate debate... in relation to alleged waiver of without prejudice privilege and allegations of professional misconduct’. He ignored these ‘irrelevant satellite issues’.
Eric Shannon, instructed by Patron Law, appeared for the claimants; Gervase de Wilde, instructed by Vardags, for the defendant.