“Justice” Jackson’s charlatan’s charter – a self-serving stitch-up by our bloated legal establishment
It’s widely acknowledged that one fundamental problem with our draconian libel system is that it’s possible for a defendant to win their case in court, yet still lose thousands of pounds through unrecovered costs.
This effectively gives the super-rich an absolute right to impose what amounts to an arbitrary fine on anyone who criticises them – even when those criticisms are totally justified.
The ‘paradigm case’, (to borrow a phrase from today’s extraordinarily ill-conceived report by Lord “Justice” Jackson), is that of vitamin salesman and AIDS denialist Matthias Rath, who sued the Guardian newspaper and Ben Goldace after they pointed out some uncomfortable truths about Rath’s activities in South Africa. Rath lost the case in court, and the defendants were fully vindicated, yet the Guardian still lost over £100,000.
Justice Jackson has today proposed to make the situation even worse. Under the current system, successful defendants are at least able to recover a portion of their costs. Jackson – after consulting closely with, among others, members of the legal profession who benefit so handsomely from the current system – wants to change things around so that the defendant can recover nothing. Even if the overall burden of costs is reduced from its current extraordinarily high level, a defendant who has been found wholly innocent of the alleged libel will still end up thousands of pounds out of pocket.
To a rich, titled, former high court judge such as Lord Jackson, this may seem like a trifling matter. But to a writer or academic faced with the threat of a crippling libel suit by a powerful multi-national simply for speaking the truth about their activities, this will, in even more cases than now, mean that they have little choice but to settle the case out of court and issue a grovelling apology, even when the truth of the alleged defamation is clearly demonstrable.
Under the changes recommended by Justice Jackson, rich liars and charlatans will now find it even easier to suppress legitimate criticisms of their behaviour – and unscrupulous law firms will continue to profit as a result. Even more libel defendants than under the current system will effectively be denied their right to a fair trial. Even more than now, freedom of speech will be the exclusive preserve of the rich. It’s difficult to believe that it could not have occurred to “Justice” Jackson that this would be the effect of what he is proposing.
The Committee that drew up the report can be contacted here.