07 April 2010

I could be sued for libel in the UK

Many readers will probably be aware of the struggles of Simon Singh (pictured) in UK court. Singh has been sued of libel over a story he wrote about chiropractic practices. Singh said there was no good scientific support for many of the claims of chiropractic. The British Chiropractic Association sued him for libel, without any evidence on the face of it that Singh said anything untrue. Because the law lets them.

Regardless of the outcome of his particular case, there’s a larger issue, namely the way libel labs in the UK work. Singh lists reasons for libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

If you haven’t done so, consider signing the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign. And consider spreading the word.


traumador said...

i had no idea it could be so bad in a first world nation!

the states is notorious for some crazy personal libility suits, but nothing like this (thanks to the first amendment in this case)...

thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Dan said...

Thats shocking. I not only signed but also put on face book to get anyone I know to do so.