Victims of online trolling and defamatory, negative social media comments often feel helpless. But in the face of the relentless and stressful nature of such campaigns it’s important to remember that there are very effective legal options available to you – as our High Court victory in Olukoya v Badejo (April 2021) demonstrates.
We discuss the case below. Of course we often succeed in minimising the fallout from online and more traditional defamation without issuing formal legal proceedings. However, the Olukoya case demonstrates that, when legal action is unavoidable, there are a wide variety of sanctions available under the Defamation Act, 2013. By consulting a specialist defamation solicitor early on, you can take full advantage of these remedies. Defamation is highly specialized area of law; recognizing that when appointing your solicitor can prove beneficial especially if proceedings are issued.
Our clients, Dr and Mrs Olukoya are prominent members of the UK branch of a Nigerian Pentecostal church. Dr Olukaya is the leader and founder of the UK church and his wife is an occasional pastor. The defendant, Ms Badejo operates various social media channels that are aimed mainly at Nigerians living overseas, including in the UK.
From August 2020 Ms. Badejo broadcast a series of multiple (running to well over 100) videos across her channels making various defamatory allegations about our clients. Because of the way material was downloaded and repeated we estimated that the broadcasts were seen by an audience of at least a few million.
Several Facebook posts alleging fraud by our clients were also published.
It’s worth pointing out that the case involved some of the most extreme, damaging and defamatory material we have dealt with. From the start we knew we were dealing with more than a negative online review about a business or an individual. This was a campaign that was as brutal as it was relentless. Ms Badejo’s broadcasts and online postings raised the most serious allegations against our clients, including unsubstantiated allegations of:
In formulating our case against the defendant we argued that, as required under the Defamation Act, these imputations were capable of causing ‘serious harm’ to our clients. The allegations were extremely grave, they were widely published and they had been repeated to the defendant’s large social media following.
The defendant argued that the allegations she had made were true – but failed o provide any evidence to back up the claim. Indeed throughout the proceedings, Ms. Badejo failed to engage constructively with the court or our clients and continued to re publish the offending material – adding to the stress and anxiety of our clients.
Our analysis of the defence laid out by Ms. Badejo led us to conclude that, despite the vicious, sustained and ongoing nature of her campaign against our clients, her position – from a legal perspective – was hopeless.
As a result we sought the fairly extreme remedy of asking the court to strike out her defence on the basis that her statement of case disclosed no reasonable grounds for defending the claim. The judge agreed and awarded our clients summary judgment and an injunction against the defendant preventing her from further publication of the allegations that were the subject of our claim. Our clients were also awarded their costs.
We have also been permitted to seek, at a later date, damages and further remedies, including an order to require the defendant to publish a summary of the judgment.
Our clients were understandably pleased with the exceptional outcome we achieved. They are widely respected public figures; their reputations which had come under sustained attacks over several months had been restored through the proceedings and the judgment we had obtained. That judgment was their full vindication.
The case is an important reminder that even the most sustained and unjustified attacks on a person’s character or their business can quickly fall away when the person making the unjustified remarks is faced with robust legal action. Damages, injunctions and publication of apologies can all help to undo damage the harm caused by the original comments.
As we have said only a small proportion of cases of this nature end up in court. Often by instructing a solicitor to take swift action when the defamatory material first appears you can minimise any harm and bring the matter to a satisfactory and cost-effective conclusion.
To discuss the issues raised by this case contact our director Shubha Nath at Nath Solicitors on 44 (0) 203 983 8278 or contact the firm online.
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