Today the Supreme Court allowed the appeal of Nicola Stocker and held that her postings on Facebook about her former husband Ronald Stocker's domestic violence was not defamatory
In a Facebook exchange with her ex-husband’s partner, Nicola posted that Ronald Stocker had previously ‘tried to strangle’ her. Mr Justice Mitting at first instance determined during the libel hearing that ‘tried to strangle’ implied an attempt to kill by strangulation, despite an alternative dictionary definition. He found that Mr Stocker “did in temper attempt to silence her forcibly by placing one hand on her mouth and the other on her upper neck under her chin to hold her head still”, causing the red marks that were visible to the police officers who arrested him. However, as “his intention was to silence, not to kill” he ruled that her comment incorrectly presented him as a “dangerous and thoroughly disreputable man” and as such it was libellous. He indicated that £5,000 damages plus legal costs would be payable. Following an unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Appeal, the legal costs she had to pay were in excess of £200,000.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Mitting J erred in using dictionary definitions as a starting point of his analysis of meaning and failed to take into account the context of the Facebook post. They stated that an ordinary reader of the post would have interpreted the post as meaning that Mr Stocker had grasped Mrs Stocker by the throat and applied force to her neck.
Nicola Coates (former Stocker) stated, “This has been five years of my life fighting this case. The use of court proceedings to silence me has also effectively perpetuated his controlling and coercive behaviour. I hope this judgement and the costs consequences makes other men think twice before using the courts in this way”
Harriet Wistrich, director of Centre for Women’s Justice, stated
"This case is a victory for common sense and for women who seek to warn others about men’s abuse. The original judgment revealed a shocking ignorance amongst certain members of the judiciary of the realities of domestic violence. The fact that Mr Stocker was arrested and red marks were observed by the police on the victim’s neck is a serious warning of escalation of violence regardless of whether he had any intent to kill. In fact, strangulation is a warning marker in standardised police risk assessments. We are appalled that a woman speaking out about an accepted incident of domestic violence was subjected to these court proceedings – it is another example of abusive men using the court system to perpetuate their controlling behaviour.”
Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia and co-founder of the Femicide Census said
"We know from the Femicide Census that between 2009 and 2017, 285 women were killed though strangulation, of which 188 women were strangled to death by a current or former partner, that’s an average of one woman strangled to death every two weeks. It is the second most common method used to kill women in the UK.
Accidentally causing death by applying pressure to the vagus nerve in the neck has also been used successfully as a defence against a murder charge. Whether used as a means to kill, frighten and/or control women strangulation is extremely dangerous and abusive. Anything that undermines the seriousness of strangulation, especially when sanctioned in law, is a green-light for men who abuse women."