Our Libel Laws Have Become a Threat to Freedom of Speech
Britain is the global champion when it comes to libel litigation. That is not a title to be proud of. Our exalted position is a consequence of some extraordinarily skewed libel laws. Anyone can be sued in a British court for anything published in any country, provided the defendant can show they have a "reputation" in the UK to be damaged. This has helped to turn London into a hub of libel tourism. It is also threatening to undermine free speech.
People and businesses have a right to use the civil law to protect their reputations from unwarranted and malicious attack. But these laws have been grossly abused in recent years. There has been a string of cases of journalists and scientists being effectively bullied by corporate interests with deep pockets.
A science writer was dragged through the courts by the British Chiropractic Association after questioning the efficiency of the medical treatment. A consultant cardiologist is being sued by an American company, NMT Medical, for raising concerns about some of its research. And one of the country's leading plastic surgery consultants is facing legal action for voicing reservation about a cream that purports to increase a woman's bust size.
The situation has got so bad that several US states have felt the need to pass laws protecting American citizens from English libel judgments. That our illiberal laws are having such repercussions overseas ought to be a source of shame.
The good news is that reform appears to be coming down the track. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, promised a draft defamation bill by the spring that will make it harder for powerful corporations and rich individuals to use the British courts to silence criticism. …