Thursday, March 26, 2009

Britain's disgrace, again

Last July we wrote an article about Britain's libel laws, which are an international disgrace. It quoted a commentator as saying:

"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."

Quite, as some of know all too well. There's now a new article that reveals:

"A recent study by the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University revealed the astonishing fact that the cost of libel litigation in England and Wales is 140 times the average elsewhere in Europe."

British tax and secrecy laws and its special international arrangements protect the world's crooks and dictators perhaps more than any country's; Britain's libel laws have exactly the same effect. As the Guardian continues:

"Some of the most important investigations into corruption and human rights abuse are conducted by non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Global Witness, whose work is constantly threatened by libel action."

There is a glimmer of light:

"there is currently a rare momentum for change, with a select committee inquiry and a number of consultations scheduled or under way"

We hope this leads to a clean-up of these dirty policies, though the article isn't that optimistic. Nevertheless, we are also heartened to hear that:

"English PEN and Index on Censorship have been conducting their own inquiry into the impact of libel this year, talking to editors, lawyers, journalists, publishers, bloggers and NGOs. Such is the concern that media competitors and interest groups who are traditionally suspicious of each other have been prepared to sit down at the same table. There is a strong argument that "no win no fee" is incompatible with the right to freedom of speech under article 10 of the convention on human rights. The Mirror is making this case in the European court of human rights."

The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger, writing about the Tesco case, had more wise words to say here.


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