Joanna Cherry 'takes legal action' against actor in 'disproportionate' move

A high-profile SNP MP acted in a “disproportionate and deeply troubling” manner in initiating action against a Scottish actor over an allegedly defamatory tweet, a Scottish charity has said.

Joanna Cherry, who has initiated legal action against an actor due to alleged defamation.

The Herald on Sunday reported that Joanna Cherry has written to actor and River City star David Paisley asking him to pay her £2,000 in legal fees and donate £500 to a charity of her choice after he questioned her support of a fellow lawyer’s fundraiser.

The action was initiated after the MP took issue with the actor questioning her support of a campaign to challenge the police’s recording of controversial social media posts about religion and transgender people as hate speech.

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The action was described as risking creating a “chilling effect” on attempts to hold power to account, said the charity Scottish PEN.

In a statement, the organisation said: “Scottish PEN holds that reasonable questions should be asked of elected representatives when in the public interest, without fear of legal action.

"We find these threats to be disproportionate and deeply troubling.

"While defamation law serves to protect against unjust harm to reputation, it should be not be used by those in positions of power as a means of silencing fair comment or criticism.”

Mr Paisley told the Herald on Sunday he had faced threats and mental health issues due to his questions.

He said: “The whole situation has taken a huge toll on me. Not only have I been asked to pay thousands of pounds for merely asking a question, I have had these awful things said about me which I’m worried will impact my reputation in future.

"I’ve had threats made against my safety and having to document all of this and report it to the police is triggering and traumatic too.

"People turning up at my work, and making complaints to my work … it’s just wrong – all because I support the rights of transgender people."

Responding on Twitter, Ms Cherry said it was wrong to say legal action had been initiated because “there is no such action in court”. However, she said she was “wholly within my rights to take steps to protect my reputation”.

Ms Cherry said: “Article 10 of the ECHR (which is part of Scots law) protects the right to freedom of expression. It specifically states that the exercise of this right carries with it duties and responsibilities and may be subject to such restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society.

"This is what permits us to legislate to criminalise hate speech and it is why individuals, including MPs, are entitled to take steps to protect their rights and reputations when people tell lies about them.

“Defamatory claims about my position on trans rights by the likes of the actor in question and others have effectively put a target on my back and led to online abuse and threats of sexual violence which are now the subject of criminal charges.

“In the circumstances I am wholly within my rights to take steps to protect my reputation and my personal safety. My partner and I have been through hell with all of this and we would appreciate being left in peace for a while.

"I hope that @ScottishPEN will take note of my position.”

A spokesperson for Ms Cherry added: “Ms Cherry is not currently involved in any civil litigation. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.

"The actor David Paisley published material on social media about Ms Cherry which was false and defamatory, suggesting she was transphobic. Ms Cherry has asked him to delete these hurtful social media posts and apologise. That is where matters stand."

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