Archive for the ‘Freedom of expression’ Category
One of the more amusing libel threats I’ve had since starting this blog came in 2010, on behalf of Tony Baldry MP, who at the time was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Banbury (he is now Sir Tony Baldry, the Member for North Oxfordshire).
Mr Baldry had taken exception to a blog post I had written about his dealings with a notoriously-corrupt Nigerian politician, James Ibori. So concerned was the Honorable Member that he deployed the services of the media law firm Olswang to make his concerns known. Here’s the “Strictly Private and Confidential” letter they sent to WordPress, cc-ing me.
Since then, James Ibori has been convicted by the UK courts of money-laundering on an epic scale.
Following a Freedom of Information request to the UK Foreign Office, I recently obtained a copy of the letter that Tony Baldry had sent in 2009 to the then Foreign Secretary, in which he raised concerns about the “draconian” freezing of James Ibori’s assets by the UK courts.
Due to a failure of file-format savvy at my end, and a lamentable over-reliance on MS Paint, I had initially thought, wrongly, that the Foreign Office had only sent me the first page of the letter – and wrote a somewhat tetchy blogpost.
In fact, they had sent me the entire thing, barring a couple of redactions.
The letter paints an intriguing picture of Tony Baldry’s work on behalf of James Ibori. Sir Tony has been at pains to point out that he wrote it in his capacity as a barrister, not as an MP. He also insists that he was not “lobbying” on Ibori’s behalf, and that he acted entirely appropriately.
I’m publishing the letter in full here (PDF converted from TIF), so Mr Baldry’s constituents can decide for themselves what they think of their MP’s second-job activities.
Private Eye also have a copy of the letter, and have published their take on it in this week’s edition.
When even a primary school is threatening its critics with libel, you know it’s time for Libel Reform
LIBEL IN THE SCHOOLYARD
Richard Wilson asks: Why would a London primary school employ the services of a political lobbying firm — and libel lawyers Carter Ruck?
A South London primary school is funding a libel action brought by current and former employees over three emails sent by the Chief Auditor of Lambeth Council. The school has ignored a freedom of information request for details of how much it is spending on the court action — but Index on Censorship believes that the costs may already have run into six figures…
From the misguided threats against Labour activist Sally Bercow by the right-wing lobby group Migration Watch, to the renewed attacks on cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst by the controversial multinational NMT Medical, it’s clear that the abuses of our libel law will continue until some robust reforms are implemented.
As is perhaps to be expected given the money involved, the libel industry has been running a classic lobbying campaign against moves for reform. In the process they have enlisted the help of the notorious former speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, who recently found his way into the Lords. I think this says something about the character of these people.
It seems to me that the libel industry could very easily win this unless pressure is maintained on the new government to do the right thing.
I’m pleased to join today’s mass-blog in urgent support of the libel reform campaign:
This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
Help beat the torturers and their cyber-hacking buddies – please blog or tweet about the attack on Survival International
The video that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to see
Survival International works to defend the rights of tribal communities under threat from repressive governments and rogue corporations.
Last week they published and distributed a shocking video of Indonesian soldiers torturing tribal people in West Papua. This week their website was attacked and taken out of action. Other websites that published the torture video were also reportedly attacked.
Starting with a test attack at 5pm (London time) on Wednesday 27 October, and building to a very sophisticated ‘distributed denial-of-service’ onslaught that evening, many thousands of PCs around the world simultaneously bombarded Survival’s website, knocking it offline.
Other organizations that hosted the torture video have also had their websites attacked.
Similar attacks occurred during Survival’s campaign against the Botswana government, after the Bushmen were evicted from their traditional lands.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyberterrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes or Botswana’s Bushmen. This is not just a local struggle for the survival of the few hundred remaining hunting Bushmen in Africa, or the more than one million oppressed tribespeople in Indonesian West Papua, it also epitomizes the onslaught against those who dare to reject the domination of money and government over human rights. The forces ranged against us are colossal, and may have won this round, but we will never give up.’
For my details on this, see my previous post…
These documents consist of:
pp1-2 A letter from the Migration Watch solicitors, Geoffrey Leaver, to Sally Bercow
p3 A transcript of the television programme in which Sally Bercow made comments which Migration Watch claims are defamatory.
p4 A draft apology to Andrew Green written by the Migration Watch solicitors and included in their initial letter, with the expectation that Sally Bercow would “send an apology to Sir Andrew in the terms attached”.
It’s important to note that even though this letter was written by the claimant’s solicitors in Sally Bercow’s name, she neither approved it nor signed it.
pp5-8 A response to the Migration Watch solicitors from Sally Bercow’s lawyers, Preiskel & Co.
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.
From The Guardian
Courage in politics is measured by the consistent application of principles. The website TheyWorkForYou.com records votes on key issues since 2001. It reveals that you voted “very strongly for the Iraq war”, “very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war” and “very strongly for replacing Trident” (“very strongly” means an unbroken record). You have voted in favour of detaining terror suspects without charge for 42 days, in favour of identity cards and in favour of a long series of bills curtailing the freedom to protest. There’s certainly consistency here, though it is not clear what principles you are defending…
You remained silent while the government endorsed the kidnap and the torture of innocent people; blocked a ceasefire in Lebanon and backed a dictator in Uzbekistan who boils his prisoners to death. You voiced no public concern while it instructed the Serious Fraud Office to drop the corruption case against BAE, announced a policy of pre-emptive nuclear war, signed a one-sided extradition treaty with the United States and left our citizens to languish in Guantánamo Bay. You remained loyal while it oversaw the stealthy privatisation of our public services and the collapse of Britain’s social housing programme, closed hundreds of post offices and shifted taxation from the rich to the poor….
The only consistent political principle I can deduce from these positions is slavish obedience to your masters. TheyWorkForYou sums up your political record thus: “Never rebels against their party in this parliament.” Yours, Hazel, is the courage of the sycophant, the courage to say yes…
You are temporarily protected by the fact that the United Kingdom, unlike other states, has not yet incorporated the Nuremberg principles into national law. If a future government does so, you and all those who remained in the cabinet on 20 March 2003 will be at risk of prosecution for what the Nuremberg tribunal called “the supreme international crime”. This is defined as the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression”. Robin Cook, a man of genuine political courage, put his conscience ahead of his career and resigned. What did you do?
It seems to me that someone of your principles would fit comfortably into almost any government. All regimes require people like you, who seem to be prepared to obey orders without question. Unwavering obedience guarantees success in any administration. It also guarantees collaboration in every atrocity in which a government might engage. The greatest thing we have to fear in politics is the cowardice of politicians…