High Court gives man time to amend defamation case against Google
Posted on 8th February 2023 at 21:16
The High Court has given a man time to amend his pleadings in his case for damages against Google for allegedly permitting the publication of defamatory statements on its websites.
The man’s case relates to third-party material on the internet alleging he was involved in the disappearance of a child and that he has drugged women and brought them home for sexual gratification.
The man says the allegations are untrue.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Max Barrett said the material was so damaging he decided to anonymise the man “rather than add to his woes by giving further prominence to his name”.
He found the man’s legal pleadings are “entirely deficient” and bound to fail as presently formulated. However, he refused to accede to Google’s request for a strikeout, instead opting to give the man, who was not legally represented, six weeks to amend his pleadings.
The judge said he will strike out the claim at that point if the pleadings remain the same or if an application to amend them is unsuccessful.
Though the judge said he cannot oblige the man to retain legal advisers, he believes the proceedings will not go much further without their involvement.
The man wants the third-party content removed and compensation for alleged reputational damage and a breach of his rights under data protection legislation.
Mr Justice Barrett said the man feels people have read about him online and are shunning him as a consequence. The man also expressed concern for his personal safety, as his address has been published, and he said his business has suffered, the judge said.
Google denies it is liable as a primary or secondary publisher of any of the allegedly defamatory material of third parties. It referred to various judgments of the English courts and one from the Northern Irish High Court, but, said the judge, there is yet no decision of the Irish courts on whether or not Google would be a primary or secondary publisher for the purposes of Irish law.
Google also indicated that even if it is found to be a publisher it will be able to rely on the defence of innocent publication under a section of the Defamation Act of 2009 or an EU directive. The man’s claim has also been brought outside the statute of limitations, it said.
The judge said the man has been engaging with Google since at least 2015 seeking to invoke his right to seek to have his name delisted from its search engine results. Previously some material relating to the man’s name was delisted on Google.
The man, who the judge believed was in his 60s or 70s, described himself as “semi-literate”.
Google told the High Court it needs links to specific website pages to address the request to remove or delist material. The man submitted that the company has his name, address and phone number so it should be able to act on his complaint.
Google said he was invited on a number of occasions to use an online complaint tool, but, the judge said, the man indicated he will not or cannot operate the tool.
Mr Justice Barrett said it seems the man “does not quite have a right to be forgotten” but only a right to be forgotten insofar as he can provide the website page links. No legal authority was cited to the court for such a proposition, the judge said.
The man contended that Google has created a dynamic and constantly changing environment in which people continue to be able to easily access links to the allegedly defamatory material and so it is Google’s job to clean up a mess of its own making, the judge said.
Mr Justice Barrett said there was enough in the man’s pleadings for the “most just course of action” to be to place a stay on the proceedings for six weeks to give the man time to amend his pleadings.
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