Controversial columnist Katie Hopkins has been ordered to pay damages of £24,000 for libellous comments she published on Twitter in the case of Jack Monroe v Katie Hopkins. She was also ordered to pay £107,000 on account of Ms Monroe’s legal costs.
This is one of the first cases in which the Court has defined the “serious harm” threshold contained within s.1 of the Defamation Act 2013. It has been notoriously difficult for claimants to overcome this threshold since it came into force due to the lack of definition of what constitutes “serious harm”.
Katie Hopkins - who at the time had roughly 570,000 followers on Twitter - had tweeted accusing Monroe, a famous food writer and campaigner, of vandalising a war memorial or of approving/condoning such behaviour. In fact, Ms Hopkins had confused Ms Monroe with Laurie Penny, an editor of the New Statesman magazine. Ms Monroe immediately replied to Hopkins demanding a public apology and a donation to a charity. Although Hopkins deleted the tweet, she refused to give a public apology or retract the allegation.
The food blogger’s lawyers argued the tweets were defamatory and caused “serious harm” to Monroe’s reputation.
But Mr Justice Warby ruled "whilst the claimant may not have proved that her reputation suffered gravely, I am satisfied that she has established that the publications complained of caused serious harm to her reputation.”
He said the publication "not only caused Ms Monroe real and substantial distress but also harm to her reputation which was serious".
The judge concluded: "Ms Monroe is entitled to fair and reasonable compensation, which I assess at £24,000."
This case provides useful guidance on what is actually meant by “serious harm” under the Defamation Act 2013. It highlights that reputation does not need to suffer gravely; serious harm with substantial distress is enough to meet the threshold set by the act. This will be a concern for publishers, who up to this point have believed that the provision makes it more difficult for potential claimants to bring defamation actions.
Monroe’s lawyer, Mark Lewis said “Hopkins claimed that Twitter was just the Wild West where anything goes…the judge has shown that there is no such thing as a Twitter outlaw … and the price of not saying sorry has been very high.”