01 June 2021

In January 2020, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, initiated a claim for defamation of character after Dr. Christian Jessen posted a tweet on Twitter alleging the DUP leader was having an affair. The tweet was retweeted 517 times and liked by 3,500 users.

Initially, Ms. Foster’s legal team sought for the tweet to be removed and Dr. Jessen responded to this by tweeting “lol”. Thereafter, a letter of claim was served upon Dr. Jessen, and the tweet was subsequently removed on 7th January 2020. However as no apology was forthcoming, defamation proceedings commenced by way of Writ of Summons.

Dr. Jessen failed to enter an appearance and default judgement was subsequently marked against him. Ms Foster provided her evidence on 14th April 2021 before Mr Justice McAlinden. On 16th April 2021, a request was received from Dr. Jessen’s legal representative to enter a late Appearance in respect of the matter on the basis that no correspondence was received. The High Court rejected the application.

The Court then assessed the damages due to Ms. Foster, relying on the principles in Jones v Pollard [1996] EWCA Civ 1186 and Elliott v Flanagan [2017] NI 264. The comment made by Dr. Jessen was deemed an “outrageously bad libel” andwas “grossly defamatory” especially when considering his widespread media presence and public following, with having over 300,000 Twitter followers alone!

Ms. Foster was awarded £125,000.00 in damages and costs were ordered against the Channel 4 celebrity doctor.  Ms. Foster’s legal representative remarked “I don’t think Dr Jessen will be laughing this morning” outside the court.

Perhaps a lesson to be learnt for a lot of Social Media users, as these platforms are becoming increasingly popular for communication in the 21st Century!