I spoke to media law consultant David Banks this morning for this article about Bahrain’s announcement that it intends to sue the Independent for defamation.
He explained that under case law in the UK local and national governments can’t sue for defamation, as outlined in Derbyshire County Council vs The Times, 1993. He went on to say that one way to circumvent the Derbyshire judgement would be for an individual Bahraini minister to take legal action against the newspaper, but added that the minister would have to prove personal defamation and would likely be up against a robust defence from the Independent. See more on the story in my report.
This afternoon, Banks expands on these legal issues for the Guardian, adding “a note of caution” regarding the Derbyshire judgement:
The judgment refers to the “democratically elected” local and central government of the UK. It does not expressly include the unelected governments of other countries. Whether the high court would take a different view of the unelected government of Bahrain as a claimant than it would a local authority here is not set out.
It would set a curious precedent, though, for the courts here to say that our own elected governments should expect robust media criticism, but unelected dictators and despots can rely on the full protection of our libel laws.