Simon Singh’s libel case was back at the Court of Appeal where he was granted permission to appeal. While the best possible result, there is a long way to go; the appeal will be in February 2010. (More at: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/10/permission-granted.html and http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/409 ). Tomorrow, 10th November, Index on Censorship and EnglishPEN will publish the much-awaited ‘Free Speech Is Not For Sale’ report. The report will contain evidence gathered from interviews with journalists, editors and writers about the impact of libel laws on free expression and ideas on how to reform the laws in favour of the public interest. We hope that many of you will write about it and that everyone will read it at www.libelreform.org.
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Here’s John Kampfner:
As Index on Censorship and English Pen launch “Free Speech is Not For Sale”, a damning report on English libel laws, John Kampfner highlights the pressing need for reform
Britain is a pariah state, shunned by its allies and exploited by the unsavoury. The state of English libel laws (Scotland’s provisions are a little better) is so embarrassing that a number of US states have enacted legislation to protect their citizens from our courts. London is the global centre of libel tourism. From Middle Eastern potentates to Russian oligarchs, the rich and powerful use our legal system to bully people who try to hold them to account.
Sometimes cases make the courts; more often individuals, authors, newspapers or charities involved are forced to apologise even when they know they have done nothing wrong. This is the big chill. This has gone far beyond the rights of the media. It affects people in all walks of life. Thanks to the UK, abuses around the world are hushed up, for fear of what might happen if a single copy of a publication, even if it originated abroad, is found in Britain.
All civilised societies need libel laws. People are entitled to redress when maliciously and falsely impugned. But Britain’s laws are not equipped for 21st-century mass and immediate communication. Our laws pose a direct and deadly threat to free expression and the right to know.