Diary: Bad news for libel lawyers is good news for free speech


Two of the most notorious libel cases of modern times have involved defendants called Singh. Singh 1 was Simon Singh, an author and journalist who was sued by the British Chiropractic Association over an article that criticised what he described as bogus practices. After the case had dragged on for two years, three law lords warned that "this litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise had assisted potential patients".

Singh 2 was Hardeep Singh, who wrote an article in The Sikh Times criticising followers of a man called His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji Maharaj, whom Singh described as a "cult leader". Though His Holiness, who lives in the Punjab, reputedly speaks no English and has never set foot in the UK, someone may have alerted him to London's reputation as the libel capital of the world. The case dragged on for three and a half years until it was thrown out in February 2011.

Next Wednesday, the Queen's Speech will set out the government's legislative programme for the coming year. There is a draft Defamation Bill, published over a year ago, which has solid political support, and which would aim to make litigation quicker and cheaper, which would discourage "libel tourism", under which wealthy foreigners choose London as their most favourable litigation location, and which would protect articles that appear in peer-reviewed scientific or academic journals.

The Bill will probably feature in the Queen's Speech. That could be bad news for libel lawyers, but good for free speech.

Flanders retreats from hasty tweet

In a delightful illustration of the perils of social media, Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's economic editor, tweeted in fury: "Just tried to vote. My polling station, in Hammersmith, had closed two hours early. Has anyone else had same problem?"

Minutes later, she tweeted in toe-curling embarrassment: "My democratic outrage is now in abeyance.

"Apparently all stations closed because, er, today isn't Thursday. Clearly I need an early night."

Unlikely defenders of Cornish pasties

In the 19th century, thousands of Cornish miners headed across the water to Michigan to work in the copper mines, and introduced America to the Cornish pasty.

Now Camborne, in Cornwall, has received visitors from Calumet, in Michigan, bearing a petition with 500 signatures against George Osborne's decision to impose VAT on pasties.

Where does the buck stop?

Nottingham's voters were among those being called upon yesterday to decide whether they want a directly elected mayor, with Nottingham East's Labour MP, Chris Leslie, foremost among those advocating a No vote.

Local Yes campaigners have meanwhile dug up an old pamphlet issued by the think tank IPPR, arguing the case in favour of directly elected mayors, because "with a mayor the public knows who is in charge and where the buck stops". This has provoked some interest locally, because the pamphlet's co-author is the self same Chris Leslie.

Don't mention PM Perceval

A week today will be the 200th anniversary of the death of Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. He was shot dead in the lobby of the Commons by a half-demented businessman who had been petitioning the government to help him get redress for the five years he had spent under arrest in Russia after a business deal went wrong.

The junior Foreign Minister, Henry Bellingham, will doubtless have his phone clogged up with messages inviting him into broadcasting studios to comment on the event. Whether he will want to is another matter. Henry Bellingham, the law-abiding Tory minister, is distantly related to John Bellingham, who was hanged for Perceval's murder. This is not something of which the Bellingham family is especially proud. Oddly, there is no memorial to Perceval anywhere in Parliament, though he was a renowned campaigner against the slave trade and the trafficking of women. Nor do the authorities plan one.

They say there is a monument to him in Westminster Abbey, and that is enough.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own