No matter, she put out a statement which accused blogger Shaun Lawson of launching a “defamatory and untrue smear” against her, although she and her lawyers have never sought judgment against him. And despite no trial having taken place, she asserted that Sivier had been peddling “lies”, and that his claims were “untrue and defamatory”.
But it wasn’t all over: what had happened was that Ms Riley’s legal team had applied for Sivier’s use of a public interest defence to be “struck out”. Dame Justice Collins Rice agreed with their submission. But Sivier then appealed, and yesterday, Lord Justice Warby, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Henderson allowed that appeal.
So the matter may go to trial; note that I use the term “may”. Because this has been a difficult case to figure out, on a number of levels. The judgment mentions more than once what it calls “The Lawson articles” - Shaun Lawson’t posts. Warby LJ makes this observation: “without sight of the Lawson articles we cannot be confident that, taken in conjunction with the tweets relied on by Mr Sivier, they were incapable of grounding the necessary reasonable belief on his part”. But here a problem enters for Ms Riley.
She and her lawyers have thus far declined to pursue judgment against Lawson, on the grounds that he lives in Uruguay and may not be of significant means - in other words, there would be little chance of recovering the costs of any action. But then, Ms Riley’s lawyer Mark Lewis said in 2019 “This is not about money … They’re not looking to enrich themselves by taking legal action. They’re looking to stop vile lies”.
If it was not about the money, why not go after Lawson? Then there was the action Ms Riley, and her pal Tracy Ann Oberman, took against barrister Jane Heybroek, for Retweeting a Shaun Lawson Tweet which linked to one of those “Lawson articles”. After the action had cost Ms Heybroek around £80,000, Ms Riley and Ms Oberman were unable to pony up any evidence of reputational damage and the case collapsed.
And then the question continues to beg itself: if, as Ms Riley’s January statement asserts, there is “extremely serious defamation” in Sivier’s post, then why bother having his defence struck out? Let it go to trial, and if it’s so cut and dried, he’d lose, and badly. What an excellent PR victory that would be for Ms Riley. But her lawyers went for the strike out.
It would be most enlightening to know what the libel insurers - who, Lewis admitted, “did not see any advantage in pursuing a case” against Jane Heybroek - have had to say about the Sivier action. Ms Riley’s sole response thus far has been to restate her January Tweet, to which Ms Oberman has added a smear of Mike Sivier, calling him a “Grifter”, something that Sivier may be best advised screen shotting. So what will happen next?
This action may well go to a trial. But do not be surprised if, in the meantime, it were instead to go the same way as the Heybroek case. My Occam’s Razor is pointing at the failure to pursue Shaun Lawson turning out to be not such a good idea after all.
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