The Supreme Court has today (9 July 2018) granted my client, Nicola Stocker, permission to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal to dismiss her appeal from the judgment of Mitting J. The case involves a Facebook posting by Ms Stocker relating to her former husband. The relevant words were: “He tried to strangle me”.
The Judge found that Mr Stocker “did in temper attempt to silence her forcibly by placing one hand on her mouth and the other on her upper neck under her chin to hold her head still”, thereby causing red marks visible to the police, but that “his intention was to silence, not to kill”.
The Judge determined that “tried to strangle” meant tried to kill by strangulation and in consequence, found that Mr Stocker had been libelled. Ms Stocker sought to rely on evidence to suggest that the words were a common way of a victim describing a violent constriction of the throat that prevented her from breathing but, self-evidently, did not result in her death. Strangling is a well known form of domestic abuse, which in common with other forms, is based on control and dominance with the purpose of obtaining the victim’s future or continued subservience. An unqualified allegation of strangling is rarely used by someone who is alive.
In the Court of Appeal Sharp LJ held that the issue was not whether the Court of Appeal would have reached the same decision of as the Judge but whether the decision he reached was “open to him”. She concluded that it was. She was critical of the reliance on evidence of the usage of “tried to strangle”.
The grounds of appeal to the Supreme Court identified two arguable points of law of general public importance: Firstly, the admissibility, treatment and weight to be given to external material relating to the usage of the words complained of or equivalent words; and secondly, the standard of appellate review on a determination of meaning.