Archive for the ‘Libel Law’ Category

Read more UK Parliament Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

See article from guardian.co.uk

House of Lords logoLaws that led to London being dubbed the libel capital of the world will be reformed after peers in the Lords voted to pass the defamation bill, ending a three-year campaign led by Liberal Democrat peers Lord McNally and Lord Lester.

Libel reform campaigners said they were delighted overall that defamation reform was finally passing into law, although they were disappointed by the failure of a bid to bar private companies contracted to run schools, prisons or healthcare from suing ordinary citizens who criticised the work they do for the taxpayer. In the end it was the Lib Dems and Tories that did the dirty and killed some of the valuable reforms.

However, the bill is a landmark piece of legislation and should provide more protection for individuals and organisations, including newspapers and broadcasters, which criticise big companies.

The new law will also stop cases being taken in London against journalists, academics or individuals who live outside the country, denting the libel tourism industry, but not ending it altogether, as foreigners will still be able to lodge claims in the high court.

The bill will now return to the Commons on Wednesday for formal approval with no possibility of fresh amendments.

Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship said she was delighted that corporations will now have to prove financial loss before they sue for libel but added it was a pity the government voted against Labour’s amendment to stop public money being used to stop citizen critics .

Read more UK Government Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

See article from libelreform.org

House of Commons logoAt a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 April 2013 the Government rejected attempts to reform the libel laws to limit companies’ ability to use sue individuals. The reform would have asked companies to show they had been harmed before they would be allowed to take it case. It would also have put the Derbyshire principle, which prevents public bodies from suing individuals for libel into law, and would have extended this principle to private companies performing public functions. Labour pushed the Government on this clause and forced a vote which the Government won 298 to 230.

But Minister for Justice Helen Grant MP said the Government would “actively consider” amendments to the Defamation Bill that would require corporations to show financial loss before they can sue for libel, following pressure from Shadow Minister for Justice Sadiq Khan MP. The Defamation Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 23 April.

Tracey Brown, Sense About Science:

We are pleased that so many MPs recognise the need for corporations to show actual financial harm and grateful to the MPs who worked for this. While it is deeply disappointing that the corporations’ clause has been removed, their efforts have at least led the Government to concede that this should be revisited in the Lords. It cannot be right that the court is not asked to consider whether companies have faced loss, or are likely to, before a case can go ahead. It cannot be right that citizens can’t criticise delivery of public services whether by private companies or by the Government.

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship:

It is a very unwelcome blot on an important bill that the Government voted to allow corporations to continue to pressurise and sue in ways that chill free speech

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN :

The Government needs to do more than “actively consider” amendments.  Ministers in the House of Lords should now table an early amendment, requiring corporations to show financial loss before they sue.  We’re depending on the Lords now to deliver the reform that all the parties signed up to. It’s essential that companies are no longer allowed to exploit libel law to bully whistleblowers into silence. This has always been a key demand for the campaign.

Simon Singh, defendant in British Chiropractic Association v Singh:

The majority of the cases that galvanized public support for libel reform involved corporations, so the final Defamation Bill must include a clause that limits the powers for corporations to bully their critics into silence. The proposal on the table is reasonable, modest and fair. Ignoring this proposal on corporations would leave the door open to further abuses of libel law by those who want to block the public’s access to information concerning everything from consumer issues to medical treatments.

Read more UK Parliament Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Thanks to Spiderschwein
See article from bbc.co.uk

Houses of ParliamentRepressive plans to tackle the supposed problems of internet trolling could have a chilling effect on online freedom of expression, a committee of MPs and peers has said.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that libel law reforms might cause website operators to delete statements that had not broken the law. Chairman Hywel Francis said:

There should be a higher threshold put in place before material has to be removed.

We think there is a real risk that website operators will be forced to arbitrate on whether something is defamatory or lawful, and will too readily make decisions on commercial grounds to remove allegedly defamatory material rather than engage with the process.

Proposals in the Defamation Bill aim to protect website operators such as Facebook or Twitter from claims against them when defamatory statements are published by their users, while making it easier to identify the people accused of making such statements.

To be entitled to this protection, the websites must either facilitate contact between the complainant and the author or remove the offending material when they cannot establish contact.

Under the bill, a statement is regarded as defamatory if it has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of a person or a company, but any claim for damages will fail if it can be shown, for example, that the defamatory statement is substantially true .

The bill is due to begin detailed scrutiny in the House of Lords on 17 December.

Read more UK Government Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

See article from libelreform.org

libel reform campaign logoAs announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Government will introduce a law to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation.The libel reform campaign, nearly 100 organisations and 60,000 supporters including leading names from science, the arts and public life have been calling for legislation to reform the libel laws since December 2009. Congratulations to all on this momentous stage.

Now we need to see the details of the Bill and will work to ensure the reforms will do away with unwarranted chilling, bullying effects of the current laws.

Over the coming months, the Libel Reform Campaign will continue to fight for:

  • a public interest defence so people can defend themselves unless the claimant can show they have been malicious or reckless.
  • a strong test of harm that strikes out claims unless the claimant can demonstrate serious and substantial harm and they have a real prospect of vindication.
  • a restriction on corporations’ ability to use the libel laws to silence criticism.
  • provisions for online hosts and intermediaries, who are not authors nor traditional publishers.

…Read comments from supporters

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See article from dailymail.co.uk

houses of parliament at nightReforms to England’s libel laws will not do enough to protect free speech. A powerful parliamentary committee believes further steps are needed to prevent big corporations using their financial muscle to gag opponents by threatening legal action.

It also wants extra measures to protect scientists and academics who are publishing legitimate research, and to prevent trivial claims ever reaching court.

The committee has been scrutinising the Coalition’s proposals to end the international embarrassment that sees rich and powerful foreigners flocking to our courts to silence critics.

The report from the joint committee on the draft Defamation Bill says many of the Government’s proposals, particularly a move to end trial by jury except in the most serious cases, are worthwhile. But it says the plans are modest and do not address the key problem in defamation law, the unacceptably high costs associated with defending cases.

Recommendation that websites be held responsible for anonymous comments

See article from bbc.co.uk

Rubies Costume Co Vendetta MaskWebsites should have protection from defamation cases if they act quickly to remove anonymous postings which prompt a complaint, a report says. A joint parliamentary committee tasked with examining libel reform says it wants a cultural shift so that posts under pseudonyms are not considered true, reliable or trustworthy, But it says websites which identify authors and publish complaints alongside comments should get legal protection.

The committee proposes a new notice and takedown procedure for defamatory online comments – aimed at providing a quick remedy for those who are defamed and to give websites which use the procedure more legal protection.

It recommends that where complaints are made about comments from identified authors – the website should promptly publish a notice of the complaint alongside it. The complainant can then apply to a court for a takedown order – which if granted, should result in the comment being removed, if the website is to avoid the risk of a defamation claim.

But where potentially defamatory comments are anonymous, the website should immediately remove them on receipt of a complaint, unless the author agrees to identify themselves, the report says. The author of the comment can then be sued for defamation but if a website refuses to take down an anonymous remark it should be treated as its publisher and face the risk of libel proceedings.

The report also says a website could apply to a court for a leave-up order, if it (is rich enough and) considers the anonymous comment to be on a matter of significant public interest.

But Mumsnet, a parenting website, says many of its members rely on the ability to ask questions or post comments anonymously. Many of the women posting messages do so under a user name, rather than their real name – and the site is worried the proposal will mean more people demanding messages be taken down.

Its co-founder, Justine Roberts, said while it was right to stop people from assassinating the character of others from behind the cloak of anonymity the report did not recognise how useful anonymous postings were in allowing people to speak honestly about difficult real-life situations. The recommendations could have a chilling effect on sites like Mumsnet where many thousands of people use anonymity to confidentially seek and give advice about sensitive real-life situations.

Under the current law, websites are liable for defamatory statements made by their users. If they fail to take down a post when they receive a complaint, they risk being treated as the primary publisher of the statement.

So how is a website to know if users correctly identify themselves anyway?

Read more UK News at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Based on article from libelreform.org

Facebook logoDear Prime Minister

We are writing to ask that you introduce urgent reforms in the Government’s proposed draft Defamation Bill to protect open discussion on the internet.

The English law of defamation is having a disproportionate, chilling effect on online writers, e-communities and web hosts:

  • The libel laws have not been updated to address the rise of online publication. The current multiple publication rule, dating back to 1849, defines every download as a publication and a potential new cause of action.
  • Internet service providers can be held liable for comments they host and therefore are inclined to take down material or websites even before the writer or publisher has been made aware of a complaint. Such intermediaries usually have no access to the background or relevant facts and should not be expected to play judge and jury in determining whether a writer’s material is defamatory or not. This is a decision that can and should only be made by the direct parties involved.
  • Online blogs and forums are available around the world and there appear, in practice, to be few restrictions on material published substantially on matters and concerning parties and reputations elsewhere being the subject of legal action in English courts.
  • The Internet is used for publication by millions of ordinary citizens for whom the current defences to an action for defamation have not been developed.

We ask that the Government’s draft Bill provide the following protection for discussion on the Internet:

  1. ISPs and forum hosts – intermediaries – should not be forced to take down material without a determination by a court or competent authority that the content is defamatory. The claimant should in the first instance approach the author rather than an uninvolved intermediary.
  2. There should be a single publication rule and a limitation period of one year from original publication.
  3. Claimants in libel law should demonstrate that there has been a substantial tort in the jurisdiction in which they bring proceedings.
  4. There should be a public interest defence in cases where the material is on a matter of public interest and the author has acted in accordance with expectations of the medium or forum.

Signed

Richard Allan, Director of Policy EU, Facebook

Emma Ascroft, Director, Public & Social Policy, Yahoo! UK & Ireland

Lisa Fitzgerald, Senior Counsel, AOL (UK) Limited

Nicholas Lansman, Secretary-General, Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), which represents providers of Internet services in the UK and has over 200 members representing 95 per cent of the access market.

Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet

Read more US Censorship News at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Based on article from indexoncensorship.org

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama has signed the SPEECH Act into US law, a move designed to protect US writers and reporters from England’s controversial defamation laws.

The Act, tabled by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, makes libel judgments against American writers in foreign territories unenforceable if they are perceived to counter the First Amendment right to free speech.

The Libel Reform Campaign has expressed concern that our reputation is being damaged internationally due to our restrictive, archaic and costly libel laws which cost 140 times the European equivalent.

The coalition government has said it will table a draft Bill to reform our libel laws in January 2011 after the campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science. The campaign has 52,000 signatories to its petition and all three main political parties committed in their general election manifestos to libel reform.

Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship said:

The US’s response to our libel laws has already played a key role in advancing the campaign for reform in the UK. I’m hopeful that the government’s draft bill will address the issue of libel tourism, which has a clear chilling effect on freedom of speech, and make it harder for claimants from outside the EU to bully publishers, NGOs, bloggers and investigative journalists into silence.

Síle Lane, Public Liaison of Sense About Science said:

As other countries move to protect their citizens from the chilling effect of our libel laws we urge bloggers, science writers, NGOs and small publications facing threats and bankruptcy to keep up the pressure on the Government to ensure that the proposed draft libel bill brings the meaningful change that is so urgently needed.

Read more UK Government Censorship News at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Based on article from news.bbc.co.uk

House of Lords logoMinisters have said they are to reviews the laws of libel with the aim of bolstering freedom of expression and the integrity of academic research.

Justice Minister Lord McNally said the coalition would publish a draft bill for consultation early next year. The Conservatives and Lib Dems included a commitment to reform the laws on libel and defamation in their coalition agreement in May.

Debating a private member’s bill on the issue in the Lords, Lib Dem peer Lord McNally said ministers intended to bring forward legislation of their own next year: Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy

We need investigative journalism and scientific research to be able to flourish without the fear of unfounded, lengthy and costly defamation and libel cases being brought against them.

We are committed to reforming the law on defamation and want to focus on ensuring that a right and a fair balance is struck between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation.

The Index of Censorship said changes were needed to help foster academic debate and should not be seen as a licence for the media to publish what they liked. We are absolutely delighted about this but obviously there is a long way to go, said its editor Jo Glanville: There will be consultations and nobody knows what this will end up looking like. But it is a real triumph.

Read more UK News at MelonFarmers.co.uk

From Sile Lane of www.libelreform.org
See also article from senseaboutscience.org.uk
See also Judge ‘baffled’ by Simon Singh chiropractic case from indexoncensorship.org

Pen protest at courtSimon Singh’s libel case v the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) was heard at the Court of Appeal in front of three of the most senior judges in England and Wales: Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley.

They heard arguments from both barristers on the meaning of Simon’s article and on whether it was fact or comment and their judgment is expected in 6 – 8 weeks. A crowd of supporters greeted Simon as he arrived at the court.

Simon said after the hearing: First of all, thanks to everyone who came to the Court of Appeal today, and everyone who has been so supportive over the last two years. Without your goodwill, I probably would have caved in a long time ago.

I am delighted the Court of Appeal has decided to reconsider the meaning of my article about chiropractic, and I am particularly glad that three such eminent judges will make the ruling. They grilled both sides on all aspects of the appeal. However I should stress that whatever the outcome there is still a long way to go in this libel case. It has been almost two years since the article was published, and yet we are still at a preliminary stage of identifying the meaning of my article. It could easily take another two years before the case is resolved.

More important than my particular case is the case for libel reform and I know that you share my concern on this matter. My greatest desire is that journalists in future should not have to endure such an arduous and expensive libel process, which has already affected the careers of health journalists such as Ben Goldacre, and which is currently bearing down on the eminent cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst. If Peter loses his case then he will be bankrupted. Please continue to spread the word about libel reform.

Simon’s solicitor Robert Dougans of Bryan Cave LLP said: It was encouraging to see three such senior judges taking such an interest in the appeal, and the BCA’s counsel was given a thorough grilling by the court. What was significant was that the Lord Chief Justice said he was surprised that the BCA had not taken the opportunity offered them back in 2008 to publish their side of the story in the Guardian, rather than insisting Simon apologise and beginning proceedings. He also said it was a waste of both parties’ time and effort. I hope that this is borne in mind by MPs when they grapple with the need for libel reform.

Read more UK News at MelonFarmers.co.uk

From Sile Lane of www.libelreform.org

Old BaileySimon Singh vs British Chiropractic Association
Court of Appeal, London
Tuesday 23rd February

Simon Singh’s libel case with the British Chiropractic Association appears before the Court of Appeal in London next week on Tuesday 23rd February. His case will be heard by three of the most powerful legal figures in the UK, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley and has been named one of the top ten cases to watch in 2010 by The Lawyer magazine.

You can join Simon, me and others to wish Simon good luck at 9.45 am on Tuesday on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice (Strand, WC2A 2LL). You are also welcome to stay for part or whole of the Court of Appeal hearing starting at 10.30am. This is open to the public and quite a spectacle.

Ahead of Simon’s case we are holding a Science Libel Survivors Rally in London on Monday night. This is a joint event of Westminster Skeptics and Sense About Science on the eve of Simon’s hearing. Simon will be joined by other libel defendants including Peter Wilmshurst, Dave Osler, and Ben Goldacre and special guests including Professor Raymond Tallis to tell us how libel laws are impacting on science and scientists. You are warmly invited to this interesting and exciting event in The Monk Exchange pub, Strutton Ground, London, SW1H 0HW from 19.00. More at westminster.skepticsinthepub.org

Last week Simon asked for supporters to persuade others to sign up to libel reform and the result was spectacular, with 10,000 new names in a week. Many of you did a great job, and it would be brilliant if you could continue to encourage others to sign www.libelreform.org/sign so that we add another 10,000 names this week. As Simon said in the previous newsletter, and we can probably trust his maths, if everyone persuaded just one more person to sign up then we would reach 100,000 signatories within a month.

Keep an eye out for stories on Simon’s case in the Sunday Times this weekend and in The Times and the Guardian on Monday and you can listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme Science on Trial at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00qps87