A new frontier in the boundary between professional and private life – solicitors’ undertakings
Camille Saskia Richardson v Facebook; Camille Saskia Richardson v Google (UK) LTD (2015) EWHC 3154 (QB)
The claimant had sought damages for defamation and breach of her right to privacy in respect of two publications on a Facebook profile and Google blog page respectively.
Both profile and blog pages were purported to have been written by the claimant; the claimant, however, complained that both pages were created by imposters and were in fact fake. She sought both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages in each action.
Master Kay QC had dismissed both actions against Facebook and Google in June 2015 on the basis that, in each case, the claimant had tried to sue a company that was not responsible for the publication complained of. In the first action, the claimant named as the defendant a corporate entity which did not exist – that was, simply, “Facebook”. When she changed the defendant’s name to an entity that did exist, that is the website’s UK subsidiary (and, Master Kay noted, without making a proper application to substitute the defendant), the entity she named was not responsible for controlling what was published on it.
The second action against Google was similarly struck out because the claimant had brought it against the website’s UK subsidiary which, again, was not responsible for controlling publication.
The claimant therefore applied for permission to appeal the Master’s orders.
It was held that Master Kay QC was undoubtedly correct in stating that the claimant had not properly applied for permission to amend Facebook’s name in the first claim. According to Mr Justice Warby, the Master was entitled to reach the conclusion that the claimant “had unreasonably failed to take opportunities to address this basic point”.
Master Kay QC was also correct in deciding that the claimant’s argument that Facebook’s UK subsidiary was responsible for publishing the profile page was founded on a false premise. On addressing the merits of the claim, his decision was that she had failed to demonstrate an arguable ground of challenge to this point, and that therefore she had no real prospect of success on appeal. Indeed, Mr Justice Warby, in agreement with Master Kay, did not consider that there was any other compelling reason to grant permission to appeal.
The claimant had also applied for certain questions to be referred to the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) for a preliminary ruling.
Mr Justice Warby held that it was unnecessary to invoke the ECJ preliminary ruling procedure, since the two claims involved the interpretation of rules of national law, not EU legislation or case law, and therefore, clearly, were not appropriate for the ECJ. Even if they did touch upon EU law, he said, the position was clear enough and it was not necessary in this instance to confirm the interpretation and application of EU law through an ECJ ruling.
On the evidence in front of him, Mr Justice Warby considered that Master Kay had made the right conclusions in relation to both claims and that there was no reason to grant permission to appeal. The claimant had failed to prove that both defendants were responsible for the publications, and there were no grounds to refer to the ECJ. The claimant’s applications were therefore refused.
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