On appeal from: [2018] EWCA Civ 170.

The respondent, Mr Stocker brought defamation proceedings against the appellant, his former wife, for comments made on Facebook, alleging that the words used meant he had tried to kill her. The judge determined, referring to the dictionary definitions of “strangle” that this was indeed the meaning the words bore, which the appellant had failed to justify, and he granted judgment to the respondent on the claim. The Court of Appeal held that the dictionary definitions had only been used as a check.

Held: The Supreme Court unanimously allows Mrs Stocker’s appeal. It holds that the judge erred in law by using dictionary definitions as the starting point of his analysis of meaning and in subsequently failing properly to take into account the context of the Facebook post. The Court of Appeal was wrong as he referred the dictionary definitions before hearing any argument about meaning and did not use the word “check” in his judgment or in his exchanges with the lawyers in the case. As a consequence of his approach, the judge failed to conduct a realistic exploration of how an ordinary reader of the Facebook post would have understood it. 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.

For judgment, please download: [2019] UKSC 17
For Court’s Press Summary, please download: Court’s Press Summary
For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII

To watch the hearing, please visit: Supreme Court Website (24 Jan 2019 morning session) (24 Jan 2019 afternoon session)