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Nick Cohen on the Sorry State of the English Law of Defamation

Put aside half an hour or so, and treat yourself to Nick Cohen’s magesterial survey-cum-polemic on our law of Libel.

The case that turned the English libel law from a local scandal into a global cause célèbre was brought by Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker, against the New York author Rachel Ehrenfeld. Her book on terrorism, Funding Evil, had not even been published or publicised in Britain. A few copies had arrived here via Amazon, however, and that was enough for Mr Justice Eady to order her to pulp her work and pay hefty costs and damages.

I am only able to tell you what the case was about without getting Standpoint sued because, to the regret of all the London lawyers he enriched, bin Mahfouz died after a heart attack in August, and the dead can’t sue — not even in England. He was an appalling man, whom the New York Authorities fined $225 million for his part in the collapse of the fantastically corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International in the early 1990s. An inquiry in Dublin found that he had then bought Irish citizenship for himself and 10 members of his family over lunch with Charles Haughey, the greatest crook in recent Irish politics. By his own admission, his charity funded al-Qaeda but only, he insisted, when it was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Anyone who challenged that assertion or looked at whether money had passed through his Saudi bank to extremists was met with a writ and the prospect of a horrendously expensive libel case. I am not allowed to describe the contents of the book in my own words, so I will leave the task to the Labour MP Denis MacShane, who said under the protection of Parliamentary privilege:

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