Some of you may have noticed a new flashy icon asking you to sign a petition to help reform libel defamation laws. The libel (aka defamation) laws in question are those of the UK’s, and if you’ve not heard already they are an absolute joke. I’ll briefly outline some of the most egregious aspects of British Libel Law:
No Evidence of Harm Required
For a party or individual to begin legal proceedings in a libel case they need not demonstrate how the supposed defamatory remarks in questions have caused financial or personal harm. This means anyone can open legal proceedings in a libel case at any time, no evidence required.
Reversal of Burden of Proof
In a typical court system (including the UK’s for most other crime) the burden of proof falls on the accuser rather than the accused. For example if you are accused of murder, the burden of proof is rightly on the prosecutors to provide evidence that you are guilty, rather than on you to provide evidence that you are innocent. Not so with libel laws! If you are accused of libel in the UK then it falls on you personally to provide evidence that you either didn’t mean it to be defamatory (easier said than done) or that there is no chance it will cause harm. All the accuser need do is sit back and watch you squirm.
The price tag for seeing a libel case through to the bitter end for both accuser and accused can be upward of $2,000,000AU! This of course means that large multi-million dollar corporations and industry are able to quickly silence small critics with the mere whisper of a libel case. The legal costs are often 100times higher than the damage caused by the libel.
No Legal Defense
No legal defense is provided to the accused in cases of libel. This means that unless you are an expert on British Law or have money to spend on an expensive lawyer you are left relatively in the dark as to the meaning and consequence of a libel suit. It is also left up to you to gauge whether the case is worth defending or not.
“No win, No fee”
Often times no win, no fee arrangements are made in libel cases. This means that if you wish to prosecute a libel case against someone and lose it’s at no or little cost to you. It does not mean that if you wish to defend against libel and lose then it’s at little or no cost to you. These arrangements were implemented to encourage smaller parties to face up to larger parties but failed miserably as even when a small party wins a libel case they often pay 100 times more in legal fees than they get as compensation from the case. All it has done in practice is allow big companies to stomp on small voices with even less to worry about.
Case In Point
The massive case in point at the moment is that of The “British Chiropractors Association’s” libel case against UK author Simon Singh for his reference to Chiropractic as “bogus”. Simon has been dragged through the legal mud for over 2 years now and is very far from seeing a light at the end of his tunnel. Instead of backing down Simon has bravely chosen to fight on in an attempt to not just stand up to a bully but to bring public awareness to the problems with British Libel. The “Keep Libel Laws out of Science” and the “Libel Reforms Campaign” have sprung up largely because of Simon’s brave efforts and I strongly urge you all to take a brief moment to click the banner on my homepage and sign the petition. You can follow Simon’s efforts here. To read more about British Libel law to a look at this article from New Scientist magazine.
Coverage in the mass media has been swelling steadily and across the board has been sympathetic to Simon’s (and others) case. Articles covering this issue have been seen in The Observer, The Sunday Times, BBC News, The Times, The Mirror, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sky News, The Scotsman, Time Magazine, The Independent, Press Gazette and many more.
Good luck to Simon and good luck to the Libel Reform Campaign!