Monday, 14 December 2009

Libel reform

Just for once, I shall use this blog to promote a specific campaign. It is the campaign to reform Britain’s oppressive libel laws, which are used by the rich, the famous and some business interests to stifle free expression and debate. There is more information, and a petition to sign, here:

One might think that the Internet meant that such laws no longer worked. That is partly true. Information can appear on sites hosted anywhere in the world, and can be accessed anywhere which does not suffer under a regime that has built a firewall to restrict access. But if, for example, a specialist in a particular scientific field wants to contribute to a debate under his or her own name, so that the contribution is recognised as made by someone with special expertise, anonymous postings are no good. And do we want the UK to be known as a place where debate is limited by fear of legal action, often action on the flimsiest grounds? Anything that might lead anyone to lower their estimation of the claimant now seems to be a good enough ground.

There is another issue, that of the pre-publication injunction, which has now developed into the super-injunction which forbids reference to the fact that it has been made. Recent examples have concerned Trafigura and Tiger Woods. Fortunately, both promptly surfaced on Wikileaks, no doubt to the embarrassment of both the claimants and their lawyers. What do the judges think they are doing, when they are party to secretive “justice” with not the slightest justification for secrecy, either on the basis of national security or on the basis of the protection of children? There are no other respectable grounds. A regime in which you are not only required to obey the authorities, but are also required not to tell anyone about the orders that you are required to obey, is not a pleasant one.

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