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Tamiz v UK

Case date: 12/10/2017

Court: ECtHR

Area/s of law: Article 10 ECHR, Article 8 ECHR, Defamation

Barrister/s: Catrin Evans QC, David Glen

Facts

In 2011 a number of allegations against the applicant, Mr Tamiz, appeared in anonymous posts on the “London Muslim” blog.  The blog was hosted on Blogger.com, an internet blog-posting service provided by Google Inc.  Mr Tamiz sent a letter of claim to Google Inc. via its UK subsidiary.  Google Inc. forwarded his complaint to the author of the blog, who removed all the posts shortly thereafter.

Mr Tamiz commenced a defamation claim against Google Inc.  Permission to serve Google Inc. in California was subsequently set aside by the High Court, which held that Google Inc. was not at any stage a publisher of the content on Blogger.com.  The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Tamiz’s appeal.  While his claim could not be dismissed on the ground that Google Inc. was clearly not a publisher, nor on the ground that Google Inc. would have an unassailable defence under s.1 Defamation Act 1996, the Court held that a claim in respect of publication after Google Inc. had been notified of the posts did not amount to a real and substantial tort.  The Supreme Court refused permission to appeal.

Mr Tamiz submitted to the ECtHR that the national courts’ refusal to grant him a remedy breached his rights under Arts.8 and 13.  In addition, he complained that the UK was in breach of its positive obligation under Art.8. 

Decision

The ECtHR rejected Mr Tamiz’s complaint as manifestly ill-founded. 

Key points

The ECtHR reiterated that, in considering the gravity of the interference with an individual’s Art.8 rights, the attack on personal honour and reputation must attain a certain level of seriousness and must have been carried out in a manner causing prejudice to the personal enjoyment of the right to respect for private life (at [80]).  It noted the reality that millions of Internet users post comments online every day, the majority of which are likely to be too trivial or limited in publication to cause any significant damage to another’s reputation (ibid).  It agreed with the national courts’ characterisation of most of the comments complained of by Mr Tamiz as “vulgar abuse” (at [81]).

Options were available to Mr Tamiz to protect his Art.8 rights: namely, the possibility of bringing libel proceedings against the authors of the comments, the author of the blog, or (in an appropriate case) Google Inc. (at [82]).

The national courts’ findings as to Google Inc.’s responsibility for publication were in keeping with the position in international law (at [84]).  The Court distinguished the Grand Chamber’s recent decision in Delfi AS v Estonia [2015] EMLR 26, which concerned a large, professionally-managed Internet news portal that published its own articles and invited readers’ comments (at [85]).

The primary purpose of the “real and substantial tort” test was to ensure that a fair balance was struck between competing rights under Arts.8 and 10 (at [87]).

Having particular regard to the important role of ISSPs such as Google Inc. in facilitating access to information and debate, the ECtHR considered that the UK’s margin of appreciation was wide.  It held that the UK acted within this margin and achieved a fair balance between Mr Tamiz’s Art.8 rights and the Art.10 rights of both Google Inc. and its users (at [90]). 

David Glen acted on behalf of the United Kingdom Government in the proceedings.

Catrin Evans QC acted for Google Inc. who intervened as an interested party (instructed by Pinsent Masons) and also acted for Google Inc. in the domestic proceedings (instructed by RPC LLP). 

The judgment is available here.

 

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