Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Britain's disgrace (not tax havens, this time)

Tax havens are used routinely by many of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people, n ot content with the privacy and other laws put in place by democratically accountable parliaments, to suppress information that they do not want in the public domain. One set of rules for them, it seems and another set for the rest of us.

Here is another way that they do so. For anyone interested in free speech, this article by George Monbiot is well worth reading, and it is highly important. It impacts on TJN's work, since it prevents much vital information about international skulduggery from emerging into the public domain. Here is a short extract:

"The libel laws of England and Wales are tilted so heavily against the defendant and involve such monumental costs that they amount, in effect, to censorship by private interests: a sedition law for the exclusive use of millionaires."

He is not alone. The campaigning organisation Global Witness has its own campaign, called Tilt the Balance, stemming from their anger at these sorts of practices.

Today's TJN blogger can confirm from experience as a published author (see here) that what Monbiot says about the threat to free speech is absolutely correct (though he is perhaps a bit harsh in his judgement of some British newspapers.) We hear stories about lawyers sitting in London, reading new books, then ringing up foreign dictators and crooks and saying "did you know that someone is writing xyz about you? You didn't? Well, let me tell you about it (and, of course, I can represent you . . .) "

It is right that Britain should have libel laws like any other country. It is not right that Britain's laws are so far removed from what other countries do that they have become, as Monbiot says, a global menace. We are therefore heartened to see him say this:

Yesterday two men with whom I seldom agree, the US senators Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman, launched a new bill, called the Free Speech Protection Act, to defend US citizens against English libel law. Our laws, they argue, threaten the "free-flowing marketplace of ideas" which "enables the ideals of democracy to defeat the totalitarian vision of al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations". English libel law is an international menace, a national disgrace, a pre-democratic anachronism. It defends crooks, terrorists and tyrants from investigation. It threatens the free speech of people all over the world and causes untold damage to the reputation of this country. And neither the British government nor the British parliament gives a damn.

Look at the top quote in this story again "a sedition law for the exclusive use of millionaires." Could it be a co-incidence that Britain is at the very centre of the tax haven world, and that its libel laws are so aggressive and aggressively pursused overseas?

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