This week, the Supreme Court of Western Australia held Mr
Terence John McLernon accountable for his online actions as a
'keyboard warrior' and awarded a record $700,000 of damages
for defamatory internet posts.
The decision of Douglas v McLernon [No 4]  WASC
320 demonstrates the very real life consequences of
'trolling' behaviour, and that the time tested legal action
of defamation can be used to provide relief in the modern digital
Justice Kenneth Martin used his decision to dispel
"a perception in some members of the community
that the laws of defamation do not apply to publications made over
the internet ... no matter how defamatory or scandalous the
material may be".
Mr McLernon represented himself in the proceedings that began in
2012 and Justice Martin noted that the Plaintiffs pursued justice
despite knowing they were unlikely to recover much in the way of
damages (or even legal costs) due to Mr McLernon's
"uncertain" and "problematic" financial
As is often the case, bringing this defamation suit would have
cost the plaintiffs a considerable amount of money in legal fees
and time. The point of such a law suit is not as much to get
adequate compensation for reputational damage as it is about
setting the record straight. A judgment such as this one amounts to
a public declaration that whatever was written was entirely wrong
and maliciously published.
The decision not only publicly announces Mr McLernon to be a
defamer, but also contains highly critical assessments of his
character in general.
Justice Martin described Mr McLernon as unrepentant,
unapologetic, "erratic", "defiant, hostile and
unpredictable". Mr McLernon claimed memory loss in relation to
most questions during the trial, as well as stating to the Court
that he had no memory of preparing, signing or lodging multiple
documents outlining his various and shifting defences of the
Justice Martin said Mr McLernon's responses;
"...whilst under cross-examination were, on my
assessment, false, unbelievable and unreliable. At times, as the
transcript shows, they bordered on the bizarre."
Justice Martin granted a permanent injunction on Mr
McLernon's ability to ever again post similar defamatory
information about any of the plaintiffs because without such an
injunction he considered Mr McLernon was a 'strong risk' to
reoffend. If Mr McLernon does breach this injunction he could be
found to be in contempt of Court and would face prison time.
The significant award of not only damages, but also aggravated
damages and costs on an 'indemnity basis' is not the norm
in these kind of cases. Justice Martin stated the record award
"an indication of the Court's displeasure at
[Mr McLernon's] conduct in his defences of this
The judgment serves as a warning to trolls and can also provide
comfort to victims of cyber-harassment. The decision pierces the
perceived shield some trolls believe their screen to be. It
demonstrates that accountability and vindication through the Courts
is available to any who suffer real life harm in cyberspace.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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