Shoosmiths’ Kath Livingston takes a closer look at the “Wagatha Christie” trial
While we await Mrs Justice Steyn’s verdict, Kath Livingston, a Shoosmiths partner in dispute resolution & litigation, gives her thoughts and reflections on the trial, with more to follow after judgment.
The media circus
Were we watching Netflix, or did that all just happen?
First, and to state the obvious, what a field day for the press, with daily (hourly?) reporting on everything and anything: from the trial itself, to the extensive social media commentary accompanying it, to the lawyers involved, to the trial fashion choices.
How much has been written about the outfits, for goodness’ sake... Even the courtroom sketches have been the subject of countless column inches and will surely be the stuff of many memes to come. All with plays on words and football references galore (think “Scousetrap”, goals and own goals – the list goes on!).
All inevitable really, in any celebrity libel case, albeit this one seems to have gone through the media circus stratosphere, which cannot have been easy for the parties, their legal teams or the court.
In the midst of this press reporting, we can’t help but think...
The objective of a libel claimant, typically, is vindication. For the allegations to be determined as false and for reputation, tarnished, to be reclaimed. The objective of the defendant becomes to make good the allegations, to prove they are substantially true, on the balance of probabilities.
Of course, it remains to be seen who will emerge as victor in this case.
Meantime, the danger with this media storm is that people will have already made up their minds, based on isolated snippets perhaps taken out of context, popularity or, God forbid, outfits, and will move on now the trial part is over. Albeit we can expect the judgment and the fallout from it to attract just as many column inches as the trial.
The evidence: news is never really confined to history
We have insight into some of the evidence; no doubt not all of it and it would be wrong to pass comment on specifics. Suffice it to say that the case is an illustration of what we would term “dredging”. The dredging of old history, facts, events, stories. No doubt necessarily deployed, whether directly relevant, for context, to give rise to inferences or to prejudice and undermine. But dredging nonetheless.
Illustrating that libel trials involve intense, probing, gloves off scrutiny and a sharp unyielding spotlight whose beam extends beyond the direct facts in issue and beyond even the parties themselves. Not for the faint hearted and with the risk of others being caught in the crossfire.
Why privacy in our online conversations can’t be assumed
Maybe it will prove to be karma in a case about the leaking of “private” social media posts, but it is striking that significant evidence appears to exist on mobile phones and on social media platforms.
The takeaway being that in today’s social media world, online conversations considered to be “private” are in fact anything but and are certainly disclosable in evidence (with the obligation of “disclosure” extending to evidence/conversations since lost or destroyed).
Finally, much has been written about this case being a petty squabble not befitting the institution of the Royal Courts of Justice; a waste of money and Court time. We pass no judgment. The allegations made in this case on both sides might be considered serious – going to personal integrity and raising issues of breach of trust, and we have no insight into whether attempts were made to settle, what became of them and how these parties became so entrenched.
We await the Court’s ruling with genuine legal interest.
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