New ruling on libel claims

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The Independent Online

Politicians and other public figures face greater investigation by the media after a landmark ruling on freedom of expression yesterday, which protects newspapers and broadcasters from libel claims.

The House of Lords unanimously overturned previous rulings that found that a newspaper had libelled a Saudi businessman in articles about investigations into alleged terrorist funding.

The judgement was widely interpreted as strengthening legal protection for investigative journalists in Britain, whose libel laws have long been seen as favouring claimants.

The Law Lords said the newspaper had acted in the public interest when it named Mohammed Jameel's company as one whose bank accounts had been scrutinised at the request of the American law enforcement authorities, even though the claim had been untrue.

Mr Jameel sued the newspaper in the British courts after the report appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2002.

The High Court ruled in 2003 that the newspaper had libelled Mr Jameel and ordered it to pay £40,000 in damages. The Court of Appeal later upheld the High Court judgment.

But the Law Lords said the article was clearly in the public interest and as such did not constitute libel.