I don't intend to use this blog as a law report, reciting the legal arguments as to why the court found in favour of Lord McAlpine, but I think it's important to try and draw some practical lessons from the recent proceedings. Sadly I don't think there's anything earth-shattering, but here we go: (i) established legal principles apply to social media in the same way as to any other publication (ie publication on the front page of a newspaper is effectively treated in the same way as publication in a Tweet); and (ii) the courts will take account of the way in which social media operates when reaching decisions on whether publications are defamatory. Lord Justice Tugendhat was very clear in his analysis of the way in which Twitter operates. According to the judge, Mrs Bercow's inclusion of the phrase *innocent face* told readers that she was being "insincere and ironical", not asking a straightforward question as she had argued; it was therefore reasonable to infer that she meant Lord McAlpine was "trending" because he fits the description of the unnamed abuser.
Some readers may recall a case in 1990 when Mr Justice Harman, at the height of post-Italia '90 'Gazzamania', famously asked, "Who is Gazza?" When it was explained that Paul Gascoigne was a famous footballer, Mr Justice Harman asked whether Gazza in 1990 was more famous than the Duke of Wellington had been in 1815. (Counsel for Gazza replied: "I have to say I think it possible.") Mr Justice Harman was then criticised in the press for being out of touch with current affairs and for being the personification of the alleged aloofness of the judiciary. Mr Justice Tugendhat's knowledge of the more intricate workings of Twitter would suggest that he has no such chinks in his armour.