UK libel Law

May 16th, 2008 § 0 comments

Not sure why the UK libel law needs changing? Well, it’s not just about bloggers.
This article may be a good place to start you off:

Arnold Schwarzenegger started the trend in [libel tourism in] 1990 flying in from Los Angeles to sue Wendy Leigh, a Florida-based American author, for an unauthorised biography to which he took exeption. A stream of celebrities followed, suing for slights that are not actionable in the US.

The low point came when Roman Polanki, the Polish film director, sued the US magazine Vanity Fair. To their undying shame the courts in London bent to accommodate this fugitive from US justice and allowed him to give evidence by video link from Paris — there being no extradition treaty with the US.

After the celebrities came a slew of Russian oligarchs followed, after 9/11, by a camel train of Gulf billionaires.

by accepting jurisdiction to hear the cases of libel tourists, we have to accept that the courts of other jurisdictions from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe will want to follow suit and accept jurisdiction on libel claims in relation to matters where there is little or no circulation or connection to the jurisdiction.

Those countries will judge our journalists according to their own standards. We have seen the internet availability of articles drag The Guardian to Zimbabwe, other English newspapers have seen their journalists criminalised for their writings in countries with criminal libel laws; Tesco is suing three individuals in Thailand for £17 million. And that in a country, with a touch of Dickens, which still has debtors’ jail. The courts of Indonesia have recently fined Time magazine £50 million, provoking widespread outrage at the amount of the award. We have a cap on damages of £200,000 and they must be proportionate to the means of the defendant.

Books are already being cancelled by publishers because the economics of publishing are such that they cannot sustain the costs of a libel action. Cambridge University Press recently pulped a book on the mere threat of suit.

Most worrying of all is the latest trend for foreigners to drag NGOs into our libel courts over their reports. Typically an NGO will publish as responsibly as it can a detailed piece of research on an area of controversy or difficulty. Foreign politicians, businessmen and companies now seek to drag foreign NGOs to our courts to try to gain a victory against an indigent opponent. NGOs reporting abuses of the environment, human rights, corruption, torture and so forth are forced to dissipate their resources defending claims brought by the rich and powerful.

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