Facebook pulled into racial hatred case

Cindy Prior is seeking a payout after being unable to work for almost three years. Picture: Glenn Hunt
A woman who accuses university students in Queensland of racial hatred under the Racial Discrim­in­ation Act is taking her costly legal fight for $250,000 in damag­es to Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Ireland.
Solicitors for Cindy Prior, who seeks the payout after being ­unable to work for almost three years following her ejection of the students from the university’s ­indigenous-only unit and their subsequent Facebook posts which commented on the action, are ­relying on a Hague Convention to serve Facebook in Dublin.
A solicitor for Susan Moriarty and Associates, the Brisbane law firm acting for Ms Prior, said the information being sought from Facebook “is of significant importance to this matter” as a result of evidence by one of the students, Calum Thwaites, that he did not post anything and was having his reputation damaged despite having no link to the case.
Mr Thwaites has told the Federal Circuit Court, the Human Rights Commission and the Queensland University of Technology that the Facebook account was a fake account set up by ­another student as a prank. He has produced documents from Facebook supporting him.
Ms Prior wants Facebook Ireland to produce documents ­including details of when the Facebook account was created, the email address or phone number with which it was set up, the date, location and device on which it was deleted, a full metadata ­history of the account, and every profile picture it featured.
The account posted a Facebook comment which referred to “ITT niggers” during the debate on the QUT Stalker Space forum after Ms Prior told the students to leave the computer lab at the Oodgeroo Unit after she established they were not indigenous.
The Facebook Ireland development comes as Tony Morris QC, who is acting for Mr Thwaites and another student, Jackson Powell, has called for Angus Stewart SC to step aside from his role as the lawyer selected by Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs to determine formal complaints from the students about the commission’s handling of the matter. The students say the commission breached their human rights.
Mr Morris argues that Ms Triggs should have heard the complaints, saying “the fact is that the (commission) expends a great deal of effort and taxpayer-funded ­resources to promote itself as the ultimate guardian of human rights in this country”.
Michael Henry, the barrister acting for another student, Alex Wood, said: “The students ­involved who decided to stand up to Ms Prior’s unreasonable and ­legally baseless demands faced the threat of bankruptcy and were placed under extraordinary pressures for young men of such a ­tender age. But for the goodwill of a small band of volunteers their lives could well have been ruined by these events.”
The students were not told by the commission for 14 months that they were the subject of complaints by Ms Prior which, under the Racial Discrimination Act, would advance to the Federal Circuit Court unless resolved. Judge Michael Jarrett has reserved his decision on a bid by the students in March to have the case dismissed.
The delay meant that while QUT, its staff and its lawyers had 14 months to prepare a defence to Ms Prior’s claims, the students were unaware and had no funds and little time to get legal advice.
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