Facebook fails to strike out loyalist flag protester’s lawsuit

General picture of a flag protest in Belfast
General picture of a flag protest in Belfast

Facebook has failed in a bid to end a lawsuit brought by a loyalist flag protester whose alleged panic attack stopped him giving evidence.

The social media giant was seeking to strike out a breach of privacy action brought by the man over comments and photos posted on its pages.



Lawyers for the company argued that he abused the judicial process in a case where he left the High Court in Belfast to go home on the day he was due to testify.

No medical evidence has been produced to back claims of being unfit to attend trial, they insisted.

Dismissing the application, a judge ruled that his behaviour was not enough to forfeit a right to have his case adjudicated.

But Mr Justice Colton warned: “The plaintiff is in the last chance saloon.”

The man at the centre of the case, referred to only as J19, sued Facebook over information posted back in September 2013.

He claims to have featured in a photograph showing him standing beside a large Union Jack, and to have suffered harassment and threats.

J19 came under focus for his involvement in demonstrations following a decision in December 2012 to limit the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

In December last year Facebook was ordered to pay £3,000 damages to another flag protestor, J20, for similar alleged misuse of private information.

An appeal by the social network against that ruling is due to be heard next month.

The trial of J19’s action was adjourned in March last year after his lawyers revealed that he had suffered a panic attack, gone home and would not be able to give evidence.

Medical evidence was requested to back claims that he then received advice from a doctor not to attend court.

The court heard he has a history of alcohol dependency and suffers from hallucinations and depression.

But following a continued failure to produce a GP’s report to support the panic attack claims, Facebook’s lawyers argued that the case should be struck out.

They argued that his conduct amounted to an affront to the court, and allowing proceedings to continue would be a waste of valuable resources.

It was also claimed that he awaited the outcome of J20’s action, who encouraged him to maintain his litigation after he was awarded damages.

Counsel for J19 pointed to a consultant psychiatrist assessment of him being a paranoid schizophrenic.

Medical evidence clearly shows he is psychologically fragile, he added.

Ruling on the application, Mr Justice Colton accepted the man’s “undoubted medical frailty”.

He said: “In this case there is no doubt that the plaintiff has behaved poorly by indicating that he had received medical evidence that he was unfit to attend court and by failing to provide any evidence to support this contention.”

But the judge concluded: “I do not find that there has been a persistent and flagrant conduct of the type which would justify such an order.”

With J19’s lawyers cautioned that no further opportunities will be allowed, he listed the case for further review next month.