Tag Archives: libel

Jack of Kent: Could Lester’s libel reform bill fail to launch?

The excellent Jack of Kent blog asks if the reforms to libel legislation in England and Wales put forward by Lord Lester in May will be hindered by a lack of parliamentary resource and time.

The bill, which would expand the fair comment defence and reform the law to better reflect online publications, will have its second reading in the House of Lords on 9 July. But, says Jack of Kent’s author David Allen Green:

The coalition government has not committed itself to any parliamentary time for libel reform in the current legislative session, a session which could last until November 2011; similarly the Ministry of Justice has not committed any departmental resources to putting a bill through parliament.


However, if the bill which does go forward from the debate on 9 July 2010 is not actually a good bill then it may be that such a ‘fail’ is not really a problem, and the libel reform campaign should look forward to the 2011-2012 session.

Full post at this link…

Related reading: The BBC College of Journalism’s Kevin Marsh on libel reform and whether the public’s voice is being heard in the debate.

High court ruling imposes new ‘threshold of seriousness’ for defamation

An interesting and significant ruling on defamation was yesterday made in the High Court; here’s a quick round-up from the reports.

Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed the claim that part of Lynn Barber’s Daily Telegraph review of ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton (in 2008, but no longer available online) was defamatory.

The Lawyer reports:

Thornton brought the defamation action against The Daily Telegraph after journalist Lynn Barber claimed in a review of Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World that the author gave her interviewees copy approval – a practice of which Barber said journalists disapproved.

TMG’s lawyer, David Price Solicitors & Advocates, said that the ruling was a judgement that “raised the threshold” for defamation.

In a statement, the solicitor says:

Solicitor Advocate David Price, acting for the Telegraph Group, successfully argued for a qualification, or threshold of seriousness, to be applied to defamation claims in order to prohibit trivial claims, thereby effectively raising the bar for claimants.

Mr Justice Tugendhat, accepting this argument gave a new definition of what may constitute defamation as follows [para 95 of Tugendhat judgment]:

“the publication of which he complains may be defamatory of him because it [substantially] affects in an adverse manner the attitude of other people towards him, or has a tendency so to do”.

Inclusion of the word “substantially” is crucial and is likely to set a higher bar for defamation cases in future.

The Inforrm blog also emphasises this point, stating that a “novel ‘threshold of seriousness'” had been entered into the legal definition of what constitutes a “defamatory” imputation. “The consequences are potentially far reaching,” it continues.

Read Inforrm’s full post and comment at this link…

New York Observer: The end of libel in the US?

According to the New York Observer, major US publishers have seen a steady decrease in libel suits against their titles – grinding to a halt entirely, according to lawyers for the New York Times Co. and Time Inc. A recent US study suggests that the number of libel trials in America in the 2000s was 50 per cent less than in the 1980s.

But why, and what does this mean for freedom of expression and publishers’ freedoms?

Media lawyers have a few theories to explain the rapid decline. A track record of limited success for plaintiffs discourages people from filing such cases-clearly a good for media organizations. In addition, the web has allowed for quick corrections, heading lawsuits off before they are even filed. Some individuals now even post their own responses on the Web, allowing them to vent steam before heading to court.

On the darker side, some media pros wonder whether the declining finances of media companies may be limiting the type of journalism that used to anger subjects and produce libel suits.

Full post at this link…

Press Gazette: Libel reform and FOI on LibCon agenda

The new Liberal-Conservative coalition government in the UK has made assurances that it will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and review libel laws.

Libel reform has been the subject of an ongoing campaign by Index of Censorship and English PEN. All three main political parties pledged their support for reforming current libel legislation before the election, but there were concerns that a change in government could threaten the campaign’s progress.

Says the report:

The promise of a review of libel laws was expected as it was an assurance made by each of the leading parties in the build up to the election – however, it doesn’t go as far as the commitment made in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to place the burden of proof back onto the claimant in certain libel cases.

Full story at this link…

Libel victory for Telegraph Media Group in tennis player case

The Daily Telegraph has successfully defended a libel action brought against it by tennis player Robert Dee, after it called him the “world’s worst tennis pro”.

As the Inforrm blog reports:

[The judge] decided decided that, although the words were arguably defamatory “there can be no rational conclusion other than that the claim of justification must succeed” and, as a result, grant the defendant summary judgment.

More at Press Gazette…

Journalism.co.uk backs Libel Reform Campaign

Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the Libel Reform Campaign, run by Index on Censorship, Sense About Science and English PEN to overhaul current legislation, bringing in a new bill that caps libel case fees for lawyers and addresses the impact of online publishing on libel.

Freedom to criticise and question, in strong terms and without malice, is the cornerstone of argument and debate, whether in scholarly journals, on websites, in newspapers or elsewhere. Our current libel laws inhibit debate and stifle free expression. They discourage writers from tackling important subjects and thereby deny us the right to read about them.

Our pledge:

As a small, online publisher, we are acutely aware of the ‘chilling effect’ that current libel legislation and the excessive cost of libel trials in the UK can have on freedom of expression and journalism. We support the Libel Reform Campaign and the changes it proposes, which advocate journalists’ right to criticise and question those in power and positions of influence.

The petition can be signed at this link.

Some of the listed supporters:

Your guide to the CMS report on press standards, privacy and libel

It’s been going on for a year, but the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has finally published its report into press standards, privacy and libel in the UK.

You can read the 169-page report in full below, but we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting points in the report in this post.


The committee’s hearings and subsequent report cover a lot of ground: self-regulation of the press; libel law in the UK; privacy and the press – in particular the News of the World and Max Mosley; standards of journalism – in particular in relation to the reporting of suicides in Bridgend and the Madeleine McCann case; and allegations of phone hacking at News of the World.

In the committee’s own words:

This report is the product of the longest, most complex and wide-ranging inquiry this committee has undertaken. Our aim has been to arrive at recommendations that, if implemented, would help to restore the delicate balances associated with the freedom of the press. Individual proposals we make will have their critics – that is inevitable – but we are convinced that, taken together, our recommendations represent a constructive way forward for a free and healthy UK press in the years to come.

Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report into press standards, privacy and libel

Page guide and key quotes:

  • p10: the questions/issues that provoked the inquiry by the committee are set out.
  • p18: recommendation for “a fast-track appeal system where interim injunctions are concerned, in order to minimise the impact of delay on the media and the costs of a case, while at the same time taking account of the entitlement of the individual claimant seeking the protection of the courts”.
  • p18: report says Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and the courts should collect data on number of injunctions refused or granted and the impact of Section 12 of the Human Rights Act on interim injunctions.
  • p23: On Max Mosley and the News of the World: “We found the News of the World editor’s attempts to justify the Max Mosley story on ‘public interest’ grounds wholly unpersuasive, although we have no doubt the public was interested in it.”
  • p27: Focus on Justice Eady “shaping” UK privacy law is “misplaced”.
  • p31: Recommendations for the PCC to include guidance to newspapers on pre-notification.
  • p33: On Trafigura/Carter-Ruck and reporting parliamentary proceedings.
  • p40: Defendants in libel cases should still be required to prove the truth of their allegations, says the report.
  • p45: On the cost and difficulties of mounting a Reynolds Defence and whether this should be put on a statutory footing.
  • p54-55: The committee asks for better data collection on cases of ‘libel tourism’.
  • p59: On the single-publication rule and newspaper archives: “In order to balance these competing concerns, we recommend that the government should introduce a one year limitation period on actions brought in respect of publications on the internet.”
  • p72-76: On Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs) and After The Event Insurance (ATE) in defamation cases.
  • p82: Recommendations for better headline writing to improve press standards.
  • p91: Criticism of the press and the PCC for the handling of the Madeleine McCann case: “The newspaper industry’s assertion that the McCann case is a one-off event shows that it is in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes. In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown – as for example in the
    banking sector now – any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an enquiry. The
    press, indeed, would have been clamouring for it to do so. It is an indictment on the
    PCC’s record, that it signally failed to do so.”
  • p95-6: On moderating comments on websites and user-generated material: “The Codebook [upheld by the Press Complaints Commission] should be amended to include a specific responsibility to moderate websites and take down offensive comments, without the need for a prior complaint. We also believe the PCC should be proactive in monitoring adherence, which could easily be done by periodic sampling of newspaper websites, to maintain standards.”
  • p101-3: On NOTW and phone hacking: “It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by Glenn Mulcaire will never be known.”
  • p114: Guardian articles on phone hacking did contain new evidence, but committee has heard now evidence that such practices are still ongoing.
  • p121: On the PCC: “The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.”
  • p123-5: Recommendations for a more independent PCC.
  • p126: Peter Hill’s resignation from the PCC.
  • p128: Criticism for how the PCC reports statistics of complaints it receives: “In particular, contacts from members of the public which are not followed up with the appropriate documentation should not be considered as true complaints.”
  • p129: A new system for “due prominence” of corrections and apologies by newspapers?
  • p130: Proposals for the PCC to have the power of financial sanctions.

In-depth coverage on Journalism.co.uk:

Telegraph.co.uk: It’s too late for me, but libel laws must change, says Singh

Ahead of his Court of Appeal hearing today, Simon Singh sets out his reasons for why English and Welsh libel law should be reformed.

The first problem is clear. A libel case is so horrendously expensive that most writers, scientists and journalists cannot afford to defend their writing, even if they are convinced it is accurate and important. These costs can easily run to over £1 million and are wholly disproportionate to the damages involved, which might be less than £10,000.

Singh, who is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for an article he wrote for the Guardian in April 2008, will today challenge a ruling made on the case by Justice Eady – full details at this link.

Speaking about his own case and that of British cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst, who is being sued for libel by an American corporation, Singh writes:

Dr Wilmshurst is not a scaremonger, but a doctor of the highest integrity who won the 2003 HealthWatch award for his courage in challenging misconduct in medical research. However, his reward this time has been a two-year legal battle that could bankrupt him.

When I asked why he bothered to fight on when it would be so much easier to back down and apologise, he replied: “If I fail to speak out then I am not doing my job as a doctor and I am breaking the Hippocratic Oath. I’d rather be sued for libel.”

Full article at this link…

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the ongoing Libel Reform campaign and petition, which is supporting Singh’s case.

Simon Singh goes to Court of Appeal

Science writer Simon Singh, who is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) is going to court today to challenge Justice Eady’s earlier ruling on the case, made in May 2009.

It boils down to whether Singh’s article published in the Guardian in April 2008 about the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments for children, was comment (as Singh argues) or a statement of fact (as Eady first ruled), in the eyes of the law.

The Court of Appeal hearing – scheduled for 10:30am – “is a rare opportunity to clarify the right to ‘fair comment’, one of the few defences available in a libel action”, says the Libel Reform campaign, backed by the Sense About Science organisation, in a statement.

It said it will be “one of the most significant trials for free speech and science this year”, as Singh’s case goes before the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Sedley.

Disclaimer: Journalism.co.uk has pledged its support to the ongoing Libel Reform campaign and petition.

Guardian: Fair comment, the soul trio and a change for UK libel laws?

A legal case dating back to 2006 involving a musical trio, the Gilettes, their agent and an Italian restaurant in Leeds could have a significant impact on the use of fair comment as a defence in UK libel actions.

In the case, which will be brought in front of the Supreme Court, the Gilettes as claimants have had two applications for a defence of fair comment by their agent 1311 events struck out.

Explains the Guardian:

It will be the first study of the issue by the country’s highest legal authority since the law lords looked into it almost 20 years ago. Media organisations hope it will clear away a tangle of legal complexities around a defence which many claim has become increasingly difficult to mount in recent years: that an opinion is not libellous if it is based on fact, is in the public interest and is levelled without malice.

Full story at this link…