Marl Road owner guilty in podcast case
Hon Justice Roger Chapple announced a verdict of “guilty,” in R v Sandra Hill. Hill is the Content Manager of Cayman Marl Road news website. The verdict was in relation to a court case which began in February this year, involving a podcast Hill had put together the previous February, about local businessman Matthew Leslie, accusing him of being “dishonest,” as well as being a “sexual predator.” Hill had pleaded ‘not guilty’ to a charge, under Section 90(1) of the Information and Communications Technology Law 2017. That law states, “A person who knowingly uses an ICT network or ICT service to defraud, abuse, annoy, threaten or harass any other person commits an offence.”
The prosecution’s argument had therefore been that Hill had been guilty because the nature of the podcast showed that she had knowingly used an ICT network to abuse and harass Mr. Leslie. In summing up, and Justice Chapple said that this law had to be balanced with Ms. Hills rights of free expression, under the Bill of Rights Constitution Order 2009. This constitutional right to freedom of expression, Justice Chapple said, had to be “Jealously Guarded.”
“At the heart of this case is a podcast on the Cayman Marl Road Website, on 25 February last year, entitled Surviving Matthew Leslie,” Justice Chapple said. There was no dispute, he said, that Ms. Hill had written the podcast and was responsible for its content. The podcast was available for the public at large to view, until Justice Chapple asked Ms. Hill to take it down, when the trial began.
“The Actus Reus (guilty act) is not in dispute,” Justice Chapple said, before explaining that what had been in dispute was Ms. Hill’s intention which relates to the phrase, “Knowingly,” in the ICT law.Hill’s lawyer had argued that her intention had not been to ‘abuse, threaten or harass,’ but had been to report facts that she felt the public should be aware of, Justice Chapple said, and that her ‘target, had not been Mr. Leslie, but the listening public, and so that any discomfiture experienced by Mr. Leslie could be therefore considered as ‘collateral damage.’ However, Justice Chapple didn’t find this explanation satisfactory.
Hill and Leslie had known each other for just over ten years, when they had become involved in business together. Their business relationship had not lasted. Hill had uploaded a “Wanted,” poster, with Mr. Leslie’s picture on it, in the style of the old Wild West posters of outlaws, Justice Chapple said, and the clear inference was that Mr. Leslie was an outlaw or a criminal of some kind.
“The prosecution must establish that the intention was to abuse, or harass, or that this would be the likely outcome of their actions,” Justice Chapple explained. The hour long podcast contained many accusations against Mr. Leslie, but instead of stating these as unproved allegations, Justice Chapple said, Ms. Hill had presented them as facts. “The Podcast speaks for itself…the comprehensive and enthusiastic character assassination of Mr. Leslie was of course her (Hill’s) intention. She regarded herself as a crusader, and she fervently believed all that she said about him. It seems to me that she had a very sizeable axe to grind,” Justice Chapple said. He also said that Hill had become ‘obsessed’ with this crusade, and in doing so, she had, “Lost all sense of proportion and objectivity.”
Justice Chapple quoted Mr. Leslie as saying that the podcast, ‘blew his mind,’ and that he felt, as a result, ‘everything smashing down on me.’” Even though he admitted he had been a public figure, Mr. Leslie explained that he had since gone back to private life. “Mr. Leslie was seriously abused and Ms Hill’s sustained attack upon him amounts to harassment. Sentencing will be given in October.
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