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Cairns v Modi - Defendant Liable for Twitter Comments

Reference: [2012] EWHC 756 (QB) Court: High Court (Queen's Bench Division)

Judge: Bean J

Date of Judgment: 27 Mar 2012

The former New Zealand cricket captain Chris Cairns has been awarded £90,000 in damages after allegations were made on Twitter that he was involved in match-fixing. Mr Cairns sued Lalit Modi, the former chairman of the IPL, the Twenty20 franchise in India. Mr Modi tweeted the allegation and was ordered to pay the damages together with Mr Cairns’ £400,000 legal costs. Although Mr Cairns was not at the High Court for Mr Justice Bean, he later made a statement saying:

"I feel great relief that I am (now) able to walk into any cricket ground in the world with my head held high."

Mr Cairns had been a former test cricket captain who had been hired to captain and coach a team in the Indian Cricket League. Mr Modi was formerly the chairman and commissioner of the Indian Premier League and Vice President of the Board of Cricketing Control for India. On 5 January 2010, Mr Modi posted the following tweet on his Twitter account:

Chris Cairns removed from the IPL auction list due to his past record of match fixing. This was done by the Governing Council today.

On the same day Mr Modi told a journalist from the online cricket magazine Cricinfo that: “we have removed [the Claimant] from the list for alleged allegations [sic] as we have zero tolerance of this kind of stuff. The Governing Council has decided against keeping him on the list.” This allegation was repeated in an article which Cricinfo then published on their website. Mr Cairns said the allegation was "wholly untrue" and could destroy the reputation he built up during a 20-year career.

Mr Cairns sued Cricinfo for libel. The magazine settled paying him £7,000 in damages, a further sum for costs and issued an apology. However, Mr Modi continued to defend his comments both on Twitter and to the journalist stating that the allegations were true. Mr Cairns brought proceedings to the High Court in London in respect of the Tweet and the comments made to Cricinfo. The court had to decide whether Mr Cairns was a match-fixer or, alternatively, whether at the material time there were strong grounds for suspicion that he was a match-fixer.

Mr Justice Bean stated that Mr Modi had “singularly failed” to provide any reliable evidence that Mr Cairns was involved in match-fixing. He went on to state that:

"It is obvious that an allegation that a professional cricketer is a match-fixer goes to the core attributes of his personality and, if true, entirely destroys his reputation for integrity.

Mr Modi’s lawyers went on to argue that the case was one of “libel tourism”; however this claim was rejected by Mr Justice Bean. The judge stated that Mr Cairns was permitted to bring his case against Mr Modi in England because of his links with the country. Indeed, he had gone to school here (his children currently attend schools in England), he played 7 seasons for an English county cricket team and he has lived in the UK since mid-2010.

Notably the judge hinted toward the importance of the maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied” in allowing the case to be heard in England. He stated that if the case was tried in India it "would have involved very long delays”.

This is a key case in English legal history because it is the first libel trial to evolve from the social networking site Twitter. Indeed, the judgement illustrates how a single tweet can significantly harm an individual’s reputation and this in turn can lead to hefty damages being awarded.

Further the case illustrates that where there is a link to this jurisdiction and a reasonable readership of the publication in question, English libel law can be justifiably used to seek restitution by a claimant who has suffered as a result of defamatory statements made on international social networking sites. Perhaps, libel tourism is not in fact “dead” as previous analysts had suggested in the wake of the dismissal of the case by the High Court in London, in which a Ukrainian billionaire businessman, Mr. Firtash, sought to sue a Ukrainian newspaper for alleged defamatory comments.

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