Monday, April 5, 2010

Simon Singh wins appeal in Britain on "Fair Comment" rule; maybe a help in disouraging "libel tourism"

British author Simon Singh has won an important decision in a British appeals court in a case regarding the British libel laws, which have tended to encourage the practice of “libel tourism”.

Singh had been sued by the British Chiropractic Association for challenging their claim that chiropractic treatment could fix a lot of seemingly unrelated medical problems. Singh successfully argued for what is known as the “Opinion Rule” in the United States. That is, it is clear that he was stating his own opinions or conclusions, and did not have to prove that what he said was “factually true.” Another name for the concept, becoming more accepted in Britain, is “Fair Comment”.

Karen McVeigh has a story in the Guardian, link here, title “Simon Singh's 'resounding victory' raises hope of libel reform: Appeal court quotes Orwell and Milton in supporting journalist's use of 'fair comment' defence against libel claims”.

Singh’s own website is here.

The “Fair Comment” concept has not always worked perfected in the United States, either. In 1996, Oprah Winfrey was sued (unsuccessfully) by Texas cattlemen for an “opinion” she expressed on her show about beef and mad cow disease. Also, in the US “SLAPP” lawsuits are often used to harass speakers (online and in the older print and “activism” world) without the financial resources to defend themselves, although states are clamping down on the practice. What one needs is a “loser pays” system (which is sometimes implemented by courts on a case-by-case basis, as ironically in a case involving anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps).

Kitty Kelly ("The Royals") had told the media back in 1997 that in Britain "truth is not a sufficient defense to libel" like it is in the US.

A summary of the story appeared Friday April 2 on p A10 of The Washington Times.

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