Uncle ordered to pay niece £15,000 for sharing private information on Facebook
In JQL v NTP  EWHC 1349 (QB), the Claimant sued the Defendant, her uncle, for publishing a post on Facebook that identified her as having received “treatment for mental health and self-harm”, that was said to be a misuse of her private information. The post was part of a thread between family members, several of whom had previously fallen out with each other.
The Court was satisfied that the Claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information. It held that, by virtue of the Facebook post, the information had been published directly to six members of the Claimants’ immediate family and a small number of other readers, all of whom were not aware of the information. The Court accepted that the information was highly secretive.
HHJ Lewis (sitting as judge of the High Court) noted that the Defendant had “…put forward a range of inconsistent and at times strained explanations for what he intended when publishing the NTP Post.”. The Defendant argued that the purpose of the publication was to address a family argument on Facebook which had been started by the Claimant mocking his mother (her estranged grandmother) and making “statements of phoney affection”. He claimed his Article 10 ECHR [freedom of expression] rights were being exercised to support his vulnerable mother against the Claimant's conduct (which his mother had described as "trolling"). However, the Judge took the view that the Defendant had gone too far. He held that the post “...was not just a rebuke, it was an attack. NTP referred to JQL in vulgar and abusive terms. He included detail about the police, when no complaint had yet been made. Most significantly, he chose to reveal deeply personal information that any person would have appreciated would wound. His response was way outside of the range of responses that could reasonably be described as proportionate.” He concluded that the Claimant’s Article 8 rights [to privacy/family life] in protecting her private medical information far outweighed the Article 10 rights of the Defendant.
In awarding £15,000 in damages, the Judge took account of the Claimant’s loss of control over the information and the effect its disclosure had had on her relationship with other family members. The figure also incorporated a sum for aggravated damages, awarded as a result of the manner in which the defendant had defended the claim. This included intrusive cross-examination, the Defendant’s persistence in “…trying turn a case about JQL's mental health and self-harm into one about alcohol abuse and drugs, with particular focus on an unrelated medical event in JQL's life…” (her high school prom), and an ill-judged Letter of Response, which included a threat to “.. "make sure their [the Claimant and her mother’s] reputations are shown for what they are and I will drag them 'from the gutter and through mud' so everyone; public, family and their work colleagues and partners can judge them for their actions and then they can 'crawl back'…I warn them it will be distasteful but honest, costly and damaging for both their lives and their careers and there will be no going back, ever"
The Court also imposed an injunction prohibiting the Defendant from further disclosing the private information.
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