Ex-Director of Public Prosecutions brands UK libel law an international disgrace
Cross-posted from Amnesty blogs
I’m just back from the launch of a gobsmacking new report by Index and English PEN, highlighting the abuse of the UK libel system by rich individuals and corporations around the world bent on suppressing criticism of their activities.
UK libel law denies most defendants a fair trial because a) The system works on the presumption of guilt, rather than innocence and b) Almost nobody can afford adequate legal representation to defend their case – legal costs in the UK are 140 times the European average. A trial of just one week can easily top a million pounds in fees alone.
On top of this, the UK judiciary effectively asserts “universal jurisdiction” for libel cases (at the same time as genocide suspects on UK territory go undisturbed). Anything negative written about a rich person on a website anywhere in the world can end up being the subject of a defamation case in a UK court. Things have got so bad that US states have begun passing laws preventing the enforcement of UK libel rulings within their jurisdictions, on the basis that our law violates the basic human rights protections outlined in the US constitution.
Last year, the UN human rights committee warned that UK libel law “served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work”, and highlighted the threat posed to freedom of speech worldwide by the UK’s willingess to indulge so-called “libel tourists”.
Speaking at today’s event, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, branded UK libel law a national “disgrace” – and its effect on other countries a “double disgrace”. Macdonald argues that the need for reform is not only an issue of justice, but also of national pride.
To find out more, and to sign up for this urgent and timely campaign, visit www.libelreform.org.