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By Alan Gardner at the Royal Courts of Justice
March 26, 2012
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Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand allrounder, has won his libel case against Lalit Modi and has been awarded damages of £90,000 ($142,000). Modi was also ordered to pay costs - which amounted to around £1.5 million ($2.4 million) - by the judge, David Bean, who delivered his judgement on Monday morning. Neither Cairns nor Modi was present in court.
"Today's verdict lifts a dark cloud that has been over me for the past two years," Cairns said. "I am proud that I had the courage to stand up and defend my name and feel great relief that I can once again walk into any cricket ground in the world with my head held high."
Cairns was suing the former IPL chairman in the UK's first Twitter libel case over a defamatory tweet sent in January 2010, in which Modi referred to Cairns' alleged involvement in match-fixing as the reason for barring him from the IPL auction. Cairns brought the matter to court, saying the allegations threatened to reduce his cricketing achievements to "dust".
Justice Bean, however, said that Modi had "singularly failed to provide any reliable evidence" that Cairns was involved in match-fixing or spot-fixing or even that there were strong grounds for suspicion that he was.
"It is obvious that an allegation that a professional cricketer is a match-fixer goes to the core attributes of his personality and, if true, entirely destroys his reputation for integrity," the judge said. "The allegation is not as serious as one of involvement in terrorism or sexual offences (to take two examples from recent cases). But it is otherwise as serious an allegation as anyone could make against a professional sportsman."
The judge also said Cairns was entitled to an injunction, preventing the accusations from being repeated.
In a brief statement, Modi said: "I have received the judgement and I am immediately considering an appeal with my legal team. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment any further at this time."
The case centred on the reason for Cairns' suspension and dismissal from the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a rival Twenty20 league to the IPL. Cairns captained the Chandigarh Lions in the ICL but had his contract cancelled shortly after the start of the third edition in October 2008. The official reason given was Cairns' failure to disclose an ankle injury but Modi's legal team argued that this was an orchestrated "cover-up" to conceal his involvement in corrupt activity.
The court heard evidence from several of Cairns' former Chandigarh team-mates, who made various claims against him. On the witness stand, where he gave evidence for almost eight hours, Cairns vigorously denied the allegations and the judge found in his favour, casting doubt on several of the witnesses' credibility.
Bean said evidence from Gaurav Gupta, TP Singh and Rajesh Sharma was "not to be believed", adding: "The hearsay evidence of Uniyal and Ablish is inconsistent and unreliable; and Karanveer Singh's last-minute evidence falls well short of sustaining the defendant's case."
He added that while there was a "quite a substantial volume of evidence against Dinesh Mongia", the unofficial vice-captain at Chandigarh, this did not prove Cairns' involvement. Other players, such as TP Singh, had confessed to fixing themselves. "They had an obvious incentive to put forward by way of mitigation that they were only obeying orders, or at least giving into pressure from their charismatic captain," Bean wrote in his judgement.
The judge also said he was "not impressed" with evidence given by Howard Beer, the former ICL anti-corruption officer who conducted the investigation into allegations of fixing, criticising the Australian former police officer's conduct as "partisan to the point of being unprofessional".
Bean accepted that Cairns had been dismissed by the ICL for breach of contract over his injury and also dismissed suggestions of impropriety about money Cairns received for work with an Indian diamond trader. "Despite prolonged, searching and occasionally intrusive questioning about his sporting, financial and personal life he emerged essentially unscathed," Bean added.
The aggressive tone adopted by the defence was an aggravating factor in Bean's award for damages, increasing them by a factor of 20%. Modi was given 28 days to settle with Cairns, as well as to make an interim payment of £400,000 in costs to the claimant's legal team. His own legal bill was estimated at more than £1m. Modi was granted permission to appeal the level of damages.
Careful what you tweet
The news that one 24-word tweet could end up costing Lalit Modi £1.5m may chill the blood of even the most hardened keyboard warrior. Confirmation that UK libel laws apply to Twitter - even if posted half the world away - sets a significant precedent and one that may make some of those who use the social network to engage in bar room discussion hesitate the next time they decide to flame a public figure.
Although the tweet was read by only a handful of people in England and Wales, the damages awarded to Chris Cairns reflect the unquantifiable reach of such an accusation. Even without Modi's hefty legal fees, the thought as you hover over the tweet button of receiving a £90,000 bill is likely to make your finger twitch.
However, the law that underpins this judgement is still the same. Cairns' QC said there was little difference between Twitter and slander (spoken, rather than written, defamation); and the judge referred to internet gossip as being of "little significance" when compared to a statement made by one of "the most powerful men in cricket". Opinions are as welcome online as in the pub - just be careful how you express them.
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