Defamation Bill intended to kill off 'libel tourism' - Home News - UK - The Independent

Defamation Bill intended to kill off 'libel tourism'

 

Major changes to Britain's antiquated defamation laws will be outlined by ministers today with the publication of a bill to provide greater protection for free speech and an end to "libel tourism".

The draft Defamation Bill will propose a new defence of "honest opinion", which will protect academics from being sued by companies and special-interest groups for damaging their reputations. There is now a defence of "fair comment", but it has to be based on stated and true facts and rarely succeeds.

There will also be new rules to stop celebrities and businessmen from bringing libel cases in Britain unless they can prove that the publication caused them "substantial harm" in the country. Foreign litigants will have to sue in the country where most of the damage to their reputations was done, rather than using the English courts on the basis that the publication was available in Britain.

Last year MPs warned that Britain's international reputation for free speech was being damaged by the "embarrassing" spread of libel tourism. It followed dozens of cases where foreign businessmen and celebrities used the UK courts to sue for defamation even where there was no evidence of substantial publication in this country.

In one case, a Ukrainian businessman sued a Ukrainian newspaper in the UK over an article it published on corrupt land deals in Kiev. The article was written in Ukrainian and the paper had only about 100 British subscribers. But the paper was forced to apologise as part of an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.

In another case, the House of Lords allowed Russians Boris Berezovsky and Georgi Glouchkov to sue the American magazine Forbes over an article about their business activities in Russia, which contained accusations of gangsterism and corruption. Around 780,000 copies of the magazine were sold in the United States, while only around 6,000 copies were accessed in print or via the internet in the UK. Forbes did not prove the allegations were true and settled the case.

Last year President Obama signed into law legislation protecting US writers from foreign libel judgments. The Speech Act makes foreign libel rulings virtually unenforceable in US courts and was drawn up to protect Americans from claimant-friendly jurisdictions such as the UK.

Under the new rules, it will be up to a judge to decide whether "substantial harm" has been caused to reputation in this country. It is expected that if the main damage was done outside this country, UK courts will not accept jurisdiction. The Bill will also include new rules designed to protect academics and others from being sued by companies or individuals for expressing views – even if they are defamatory.

This follows several high profile cases, including that of the science writer Simon Singh, who was taken to court by the British Chiropractors Association for calling their techniques in treating certain ailments "bogus".

In another case, a cardiology consultant was sued for criticising a heart implant device at a medical conference in the US. Ministers are worried that legislation is scaring off academics from publishing critical studies – which are in the public interest – for fear of being sued by large corporations with deep pockets. Under the new rules, it will be much easier for them to defend themselves with enhanced public interest rules. It is hoped the new tests will discourage claimants from suing in the first place.

There will also be proposals to reform libel rules on the internet, so that articles are not repeatedly published and so give rise to a fresh defamation claim every time someone clicks on them.

Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat Justice Minister, said the changes would be "radical" and would be bad news for "corporate bullies, rich bullies". They could become law as soon as next year, he said. "I think the whole package will be very much what people have been looking for," he added.

Notable cases

Ben Goldacre

As a journalist who specialises in debunking scientific myths and PR babble, Mr Goldacre is used to stirring controversy. In 2007, he was sued by Matthias Rath, a vitamin pill manufacturer, who had taken out full-page advertisements in South African publications denouncing Aids drugs as ineffective, while promoting his own supplements. Mr Goldacre raised concerns about these advertising strategies in a series of articles and Mr Rath sued him for libel. The case was eventually dropped but not before legal costs of more than £500,000 were racked up.

Simon Singh

The popular science writer became a poster child for libel reform when the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued him for a piece in The Guardian newspaper that was critical of the trade. Singh lost the first legal round in which the BCA sued over his assertion that some chiropractors "happily promote bogus treatments". But he appealed, and when a pre-trial hearing allowed the appeal to go ahead, the BCA dropped its case against him.

Hardeep Singh

For the past three years, the freelance journalist has been fighting a case brought by an Indian Sikh sect leader. He was sued by Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj for libel after publishing an article which he said falsely accused him of being a cult leader. The action was finally thrown out two weeks ago when Mr Maharaj failed to pay £250,000 in to court as security for costs. Singh now faces an ongoing legal battle in both the British and Indian courts to recover his costs. He is tens of thousands of pounds in debt.

Kyiv Post

Being a Ukrainian language newspaper with only 100 subscribers in Britain was not enough to protect the Kyiv Post from Rinat Akhmetov, who sued it over allegations in an October 2007 article headed "Appalling Kyiv City Council Land Grab". The story concerned land deals and corruption in Kiev and alleged that Akhmetov, one of Ukraine's richest businessmen, had acted unlawfully in various real estate transactions. The paper apologised as part of an undisclosed settlement out of court in February 2008.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week