AN MP who believes she was defamed by a Scottish actor has taken legal action to obtain more than £2000 from him – after he questioned why she had donated to a campaign on social media. 

Joanna Cherry QC has initiated legal action against River City star David Paisley, asking that he pay her £2000 in legal fees and also donate £500 to charity after he questioned her support of a fellow lawyer’s fundraiser. 

However, the action has been described by one campaign group as ‘disproportionate and deeply troubling’, with suggestions that it could make it more difficult to hold power to account. 

The Herald: SNP MP Joanna Cherry insists she and her ‘Scottish Seven’ colleagues have a valid case

Ms Cherry alleges that Mr Paisley has defamed her by 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’.

When asked if she agreed that claiming she had been defamed when criticised was having a chilling effect on free speech, 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. 

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry 'sacked' from SNP front bench in Westminster

“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 Mr Paisley 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.” 

The woman who started the campaign has been reported to police for comments she made discussing gender and sex which are alleged to be hate speech based on both religion and transgender identity. She has since been banned from Twitter and another social media platform owing to the controversial nature of her comments.

She is the co-founder of a campaign group, Fair Cop, which is lobbying against the police’s recording of such information as hate speech and uses the hashtag ‘SayYesToHate’ on social media.

Despite contributing to the co-founder’s fundraiser, Ms Cherry denies she has funded the group itself but admits supporting its co-founder. 

River City actor Mr Paisley told the Herald on Sunday that he has suffered separate incidents of harassment from others, both online and in person around his support of transgender people’s rights. 

The Herald:

The incidents, including people turning up at Mr Paisley’s workplace with banners, complaints being made to the BBC about him and numerous unfounded social media posts accusing him of being a paedophile, are now being investigated by the police in England and Scotland.

Mr Paisley has been helped by the charity Scottish PEN, which says it believes Ms Cherry has abused her position of authority and defamation laws, and says that as an MP her actions should be open to public scrutiny and members of the public should be allowed to ask questions of them without fear of being sued. 

They also say that Mr Paisley’s work and life have been greatly affected by the unfounded campaign of abuse which has crossed over from social media into the real world.

A statement from Scottish PEN about the case reads: “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. This approach risks creating a chilling effect on broader attempts to hold power to account.”

READ MORE: SNP announce Hate Crime Bill climbdown after free speech row

The legal challenge against Mr Paisley is not the first time Ms Cherry has threatened critics with defamation suits, or accused them of defaming her.
The MP has accused several people or groups of making defamatory statements against her on social media, and in some cases requested they delete their comments.

In 2019 Pink News settled a claim she made against it and apologised after the LGBT website incorrectly said she was being investigated for homophobia. 
She has also threatened a former partner of a fellow SNP MP with legal action after they posted a comment about her on Twitter, and according to a former employee she threatened them with defamation if they spoke about complaints made against another member of her staff. The complaints were not upheld. 

Mr Paisley said the abuse and legal threats have impacted him greatly, prompting him to seek help for mental health and fear for his safety.

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, and some people don’t like that.

"When I was growing up, my father was very abusive and he stalked us, so the threats that people are going to come after me really are extremely difficult to deal with mentally in that context.”

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry reports 'vicious threat' to police following SNP reshuffle

He said he is concerned for Ms Cherry’s wellbeing and her own safety, after she was forced to obtain extra security at her home and has also been abused on social media.

He said the discussion on social media around transgender rights and women’s rights has “gone too far”. 

The abuse stems from the toxic debate around the gender recognition act reforms, which has since developed into a row over sex and gender.

Some people believe that women are being “erased” by the so-called ‘woke’ left, while others say that those critical of gender recognition reforms are transphobic as they are trying to impinge on the human rights of transgender people.

READ MORE: 'There had to be consequences': SNP insiders on the sacking of Joanna Cherry

Mr Paisley said that while the debate has become toxic and heated, the level of abuse and its effects on people’s lives, work and mental health are greatly concerning.

He said: “There is a toxic environment in Scottish politics at the moment that is causing fear and damage to people on all sides. We need to take note of that and take action to make sure that people are safe, to make sure that harassment, threats and intimidation just for expressing your views isn’t accepted and normalised in Scottish society.”