Wag-a-thon in the English High Court
Jamie Rocha-Sharp 3 June 2022
The infamous ‘Wagatha Christie’ saga took to the stage in the UK’s high court last week, after amateur sleuth Colleen Rooney’s social media’s expose gripped the nation. Three years prior, Mrs Rooney acted on the suspicion that someone, with access to her private Instagram account, was leaking stories to the Sun newspaper. In a sting operation that might have earned Ms Marple’s admiration, Mrs Rooney posted fake stories and restricted access to all, bar one. With the trap set, the accused was named with iconic prose that will go down in Instagram’s history: “its………..Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
Rebekah Vardy denied the accusation and responded by suing Mrs Rooney for defamation. Both parties have now attended the Royal Courts of Justice in front of the honourable Justice Steyn, where the party’s expert representation unearthed the twists and turns of a celebrity trial. There was a phone lost to “Davey Jones’ locker,” followed by the enquiry “who’s David?” Even Peter Andre got a mention. The rumoured £2-4 million pound sum involved, and the trivial nature of the case bring into question the reputation of UK libel laws, especially the accessibility to this level of proceedings seems to be reserved for the very wealthy.
Two main legal talking points have arisen from the trial: The first is the challenge posed to the courts in dealing with the social media age. With publishing power at everyone’s fingertips, there is the prospect of near countless legal disputes that may arise. What’s more, there will be many that question the resources being used for a trial such as this, during an unprecedented backlog of 41,000 cases waiting to be heard.
As Vardy’s lawyer expressed, litigation may have been avoided had Colleen Rooney followed journalistic practices and gone to a newspaper with her suspicions, for them to then consult media lawyers before reaching out to Vardy for comment. Whether Mrs Rooney should be held to the same standards as national publications is for the courts.
As pointed out by the Deputy Prime Minister, UK libel law is in need of reform. Despite the backlog, the tabloids continue to crave the juicy libel cases that UK defamation laws cater for.