Friday, September 18, 2009

Trafigura: Britain's menacing law to support millionaires

It's the Trafigura case this time. Nearly a hundred thousand citizens of Côte d'Ivoire sought hospital treatment in a case of toxic waste dumping. And the response from the company?

"Trafigura has been throwing legal threats around like confetti. . . .
Its lawyers repeatedly threatened anyone worldwide who sought to contradict its version. It launched a libel case against BBC Newsnight, forced an alleged correction from the Times, demanded the Guardian delete articles, and yesterday tried to gag journalists in the Netherlands and Norway with legal threats."

How do they manage to do this? It's Britain's libel laws, a grave threat to democracy around the world, as we've noted before. As George Monbiot notes today,

"In Britain, libel (or defamation) is used as the rich man's sedition law, stifling criticism and exposure of all kinds of malpractice. Dating back to the 13th century, it was reframed during the past 200 years specifically to protect wealthy people from criticism, based on the presumption that any derogatory remark made about a gentleman must be false. The law of defamation is the only British instrument which places the burden of proof on the defendant."

This is a major tax justice issue. This blogger (outside a TJN context) has been under a the menace of a lawyers' letter under British libel laws (but we stood our ground, declined to retract the statement although a mainstream newspaper which had picked up on the report chickened out and retracted, after being threatened) Some of those close to TJN have been afflicted by this pernicious and anti-democratic curse. And we self-censor on this blog, fairly regularly, on things we know to be true, simply to avoid getting tangled up in the courts under the backdrop of these laws. As Monbiot says,

"These iniquitous, outdated laws are a threat to democracy, a threat to society, a threat to the environment and public health. They must be repealed."

You may think that libel things are a necessary check on the excesses that can emerge from journalism. And you would be right, in general terms. But here is the nub of the problem, as we have noted previously:

"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."

Britain's libel laws fit very comfortably alongside the great, dirty tax haven (more on this soon) that sits like a malign giant octopus right at the very heart of British democracy, protecting the millionaires and billionaires who want to manage their dirty money without fear of being interfered wth. And don't think you're safe from these libel laws if you live outside Britain - it can happen to you, too. In an earlier blog we quoted an earlier article, also by Monbiot, which said

"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."

Well said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US Free Speech Protection Bill of 2008 fell, but has been reintroduced in 2009 in both Houses.

Would TJN sign a letter to the NY Times commending this Bill and urging congres and the president to ensure it becomes law. If passed it could well help to put pressure on the government to change English law. Please reply to

3:05 pm  

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