The outcome of Sally Bercow’s libel trial is an absolute travesty of – well, I was going to say justice, but this has nothing to do with justice at all.
Her *Innocent Face* tweet was in response to information about McAlpine that was in the public domain, and even though that information was later shown to be wrong, there was no way Bercow, or anyone else who commented on social media or elsewhere, could know it was wrong at the time.
The tweet was mischievous, and designed to provoke, at worst (at best, it was dumb and ill-considered, but on Twitter one needs to respond quickly before a subject goes cold). Since no allegations regarding McAlpine were made, I fail to see how it was libellous, and poking such a litigious, self-important, oaf with a stick should never be a crime – we need more of it. And interpreting *Innocent Face* as a calumny takes a very particular mind set indeed.
The Bercow judgement is as much judgement against social media as a whole (and god knows, it needs reining in, especially Facebook), and Twitter in particular, as it is about punishing a perceived libel. I say perceived because one would really have to be looking for trouble to see Bercow’s tweet as libellous.
In the aftermath of Woolwich, there are plans to resurrect the government’s “Snoopers’ Charter” and the McAlpine /Bercow verdict (and any others which follow), will doubtless add fuel to the execrable pyre on which freedom of speech is being sacrificed in this country.
One last thought. I saw a tweet which claimed that being sued for libel was only a worry for the wealthy. Not so. If you have no capital and no assets, the court can still send in the bailiffs to take everything you own that has any value at all.