Thursday, 15 April 2010

Does the end justify the means: are 'Libel Tourists' a real problem?

This post was prompted by something that has been annoying me for a while (since I read this excellent blog it goes into a lot of detail but is well worth the time) and in light of Simon Singh driving off the BCA (see my update earlier today) it seemed a good time to raise it. I fully support the libel reform campaign but I object to their 4th argument:
"4. London has become an international libel tribunal
We recommend: No case should be heard in this jurisdiction unless at least 10 per cent of copies of the relevant publication have been circulated here"
There is nothing inherently wrong with people coming here to settle libel cases; it is a sympton that are libel laws are in someway very attractive to other people but per say there is nothing wrong with them coming here to use them. It is the attractiveness of our libel laws that encourage people to come here to sue others nothing more. As campaign we do ourselves a disservice by falling into the trap of using people's inate xenophobia to promote our cause.

I doubt this is intentional on the part of those who lead the campaign but it does worry me the number of people who will happily repeat it without thinking about how it looks or even if its actually the problem they say it is. Who cares if people want to come here to sue each other

The only logical argument that I can see to reduce the number of people who come from overseas to sue here is if they were preventing residents from having access to the courts by clogging them up but as the number of libel cases in 2008 was 8 the made it to court from 259 that were brought this is obviously not the problem (although the apparent chilling is, even if some of these cases the defendant was obviously wrong I doubt they all were).

If anything all these people coming here with money can only be a good thing, so can we please drop the "libel tourism" and focus on what's important: that our libel laws cost 140 times that of equivalent cases in Europe, that even a successful libel defence will cost you money (to the tune of several thousand) and that more and more publishers are scared to publish here for fear of being sued or just don't publish at all.

Our libel laws are stiffling good journalism, stopping vital scientific debate and ultimately stopping the UK progressing as an educated nation; libel tourism is only a symptom of this and like homeopathy only treating the symptom does stop the problem.

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