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Evolution of the Flame

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25th. Mar, 2006 | 03:47 am

This story was reported today in a Sydney paper (extracts below). It may only apply to the United Kingdom; I'm not sure how similar Australian libel &/or defamation laws are, since we've diverged over the years. Certainly US libel laws are different. Has it had much publicity in the UK, the USA, or elsewhere?
A political argument in cyberspace that descended into vicious name-calling could lead to a spate of libel actions by contributors to internet message boards. The case is one of the first of its kind between two private individuals to go to court, said lawyers.

The action was brought by Michael Keith-Smith, chairman of the Conservative Democratic Alliance, which bills itself as "the leading voice of the radical Tory right." He said he was moved to sue after a woman with whom he was debating the merits of military action in Iraq in 2003 on a Yahoo! message board began a campaign of name-calling that started by describing him as "lard brain" and culminated in accusing his wife of being a prostitute, and labelling him a "Nazi", a "racist bigot" and a "nonce"[*]. "She was very pro-Bush," he said.
He claimed to have settled with a second poster for a sum "in the region of £30,000". "They started saying I was on a sex offenders' list and that people shouldn't let me near their children".

Judge Alistair MacDuff in the High Court ordered Tracy Williams, a college lecturer, to pay £10,000 ($AU24,000**) in damages, plus Mr Keith-Smith's £7,200 costs, and told never to repeat the allegations.

Some legal experts said the case should be taken as a warning that the laws of libel applied on line just as they would if the comments were published in a leaflet or newsletter. Others said the case should trigger a wider debate about whether the libel law was best suited to deal with such cases, questioning whether they should ever reach court if a chatroom was self-moderating and had a limited circulation.
Interesting that a strong Bush supporter would be attacking someone of the "radical Tory right."

*I could understand objecting to ponce, but nonce isn't too bad AFAIK.
**Strewth, that's my annual pay! Better keep quiet about people in Britain.
Update: I'm informed that in the UK, "nonce" is slang for a child-molester. Never heard that in Oz, tho' that may just be the circles I move — or run around like headless chook in — :) Yes, definitely not what you'd be neutral about someone calling you.

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