Posts Tagged ‘libel terrorism’
Yesterday I wrote about a discussion in Parliament on the use of “super-injunctions” to gag the media. It turns out that no-one anywhere is keeping track of how many of these secret gags are being issued, or whether the judges involved are scrutinising the cases properly.
But another intriguing issue that came out of the same meeting relates to the problem of “libel tourism”. Notoriously, under current UK law it’s now possible for anyone, anywhere in the world, who thinks they’ve been libelled on some website or another, to come to London and attempt to bankrupt the person responsible. Thus we have – for example – an Icelandic academic losing his home after being sued by a fellow-Icelander over things written on the University of Iceland website.
“Libel tourists” come here because it’s easy to win, even when you don’t have a case. The UK court system denies libel defendants a fair trial by effectively treating them as ‘guilty until proven innocent’, and because the legal costs of defending one’s self are up to 140 times higher than in other countries. This means that most ordinary people cannot afford adequate legal representation.
Those who really benefit from this system are, of course, law firms such as Carter Ruck, who help foreign libel tourists bring their exorbitant claims. What I wasn’t aware of until this week is that the UK taxpayer may also be helping to foot the bill. While the parties to the case pay lawyers’ fees, it was claimed during Tuesday’s meeting that the costs of actually running the court, paying the judges wages etc. comes out of the public purse. If this is true, then not only are the likes of Carter Ruck making a fortune from these questionable foreign law suits – but we are indirectly subsidising the whole process through our taxes….
Following the British Chiropractic Association’s ill-advised attempt to use the UK’s notoriously dysfunctional libel laws against the writer Simon Singh, pro-science campaigners have been taking a close look at the online claims made by the hundreds of BCA members listed by the organisation on its website.
The response to what’s become known as the “quacklash” from one chiropractic group has been particularly amusing. Courtesy of Chiropracticlive and Quackometer, comes a leaked email from The McTimoney Chiropractic Association:
Date: 8 June 2009 09:12:18 BDT
Subject: FURTHER URGENT ACTION REQUIRED!
If you are reading this, we assume you have also read the urgent email we sent you last Friday. If you did not read it, READ IT VERY CAREFULLY NOW and – this is most important – ACT ON IT. This is not scaremongering. We judge this to be a real threat to you and your practice.
Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:
The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is as follows.
- If you have a website, take it down NOW.
When you have done that, please let us know preferably by email or by phone. This will save our valuable time chasing you to see whether it has been done.
- REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.
- If you have not done so already, enter your name followed by the word ‘chiropractor’ into a search engine such as Google (e.g. Joe Bloggs chiropractor) and you will be able to ascertain what information about you is in the public domain e.g. where you might be listed using the Doctor title or where you might be linked with a website which might implicate you. We have found that even if you do not have a website yourself you may still have been linked inadvertently to a website listing you or your services.
CHECK ALL ENTRIES CAREFULLY AND IF IN DOUBT, CONTACT THE RELEVANT PROVIDER TO REMOVE YOUR INFORMATION.
CHECK OUR PREVIOUS EMAILS FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE AND KEY WORDS TO AVOID.
KEEP A LOG OF YOUR ACTIONS.
- If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately.
5. Be wary of ‘mystery shopper’ phone calls and ‘drop ins’ to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice.
IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION.
IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, THE MCA MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ASSIST YOU WITH ANY PROCEEDINGS.
Although this advice may seem extreme or alarmist, its purpose is to protect you. The campaigners have a target of making a complaint against every chiropractor in the UK who they perceive to be in breach of the GCC’s CoP, the Advertising Standards Code and/or Trading Standards. We have discovered that complaints against more than 500 individual chiropractors have been sent to the GCC in the last 24 hours.
Whatever you do, do not ignore this email and make yourself one of the victims. Some of our members have not followed our earlier advice and now have complaints made against them. We do not want that to happen to you.
Even if you do not have a website, you are still at risk. Our latest information suggests that this group are now going through Yellow Pages entries. Be in no doubt, their intention is to scrutinise every single chiropractor in the UK…
With the BCA attempting to stifle debate over the bogus* claims made by Simon Singh, I was determined to do something.
From The Observer:
This week, Simon Singh, one of Britain’s best science writers, will decide whether to carry on playing a devilish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He has already lost £100,000 defending his right to speak frankly. He could walk away. No one would think the worse of him if he did. Or he could go on and risk losing the full million by ensnaring himself in the rapacious world of an English judiciary that seems ever eager to bow to the demands of Saudi oil billionaires, Russian oligarchs and the friends of Saddam Hussein to censor critics and punish them with staggering damages and legal fees…
Reputable medical authorities could test the evidence and decide whether the treatments work or not. Instead of arguing before the court of informed opinion, however, the BCA went to the libel courts and secured a ruling from Mr Justice Eady that made Singh’s desire to test chiropractors’ claims next to impossible. Because Singh used the word “bogus”, the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but “dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public”.
The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say. On Eady’s logic, a writer who condemns as “bogus” a neo-Nazi’s claim that a conspiracy of Jews controls American foreign policy could be sued successfully if lawyers jumped up and said neo-Nazis sincerely believed their conspiracy theories to be true.
From the New York Times, December 1991
How could he get away with it for so long? That is the question posed by the collapse of Robert Maxwell’s empire so quickly after his death.
For years he ran what amounted to an international confidence game, borrowing more and more, covering up his accounts. An official British inquiry in 1971 found him unfit to be in charge of a public company. Yet politicians honored him; and newspapers printed his boasts, hollow though most of them turned out to be.
The Financial Times of London said last week that Mr. Maxwell was not some unimportant figure; his operations affected large interests and many people. “How was it,” the paper asked, “that he was able to play such a role, for so many years, with such apparently cavalier disregard for the normal standards of probity? How could some of the world’s leading banks lend so much money to him?”
It was British corporate regulatory law that failed, The Financial Times said. Yes, it did. But there was another reason why Mr. Maxwell escaped proper scrutiny for so long: Britain’s stringent libel law, which makes it dangerous to write critically about a scoundrel like Mr. Maxwell.
Whenever anyone suggested wrongdoing by Mr. Maxwell, he sued. He brought 21 libel actions against the authors and others connected with two biographies of him. He sued the BBC, Rupert Murdoch, the editors of half a dozen British newspapers.
The threat of a libel suit is so potent in silencing critics in Britain because the law is so favorable to libel plaintiffs. Nearly everyone who sues the press gets a cash settlement or wins a jury verdict at trial — and keeps it on appeal.
Two points of law are critical. When a plaintiff claims that a newspaper has published a false statement about him, the paper has the burden of proving it true. And there is no need for the plaintiff to prove fault, such as negligence, on the publisher’s part; if he made a mistake, however innocent, he pays damages.
American law is to the contrary. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that a statement about him was false. And he must show that there was some fault on the paper’s part in publishing it…
One lesson of the Maxwell affair, therefore, is that Americans can be grateful for the constitutional rights that prevent suppression of probing journalism. The system is far from perfect. Powerful individuals and companies still use libel as a repressive weapon. But criticism is much freer than in Britain.
The difference in the two countries’ law has lately led a number of libel plaintiffs to sue American publications in Britain. Mr. Maxwell sued The New Republic in England this year over an article about him, although the magazine has only 135 subscribers there…
Diplomat at the centre of “Arms to Africa” affair braves libel threats to highlight unanswered questions about Tony Blair’s role
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I discuss Craig Murray’s exposure of UK government complicity in torture in Uzbekistan. Threatened with legal action in 2005 to block publication of confidential Foreign Office documents proving his case, Britain’s ex-Ambassador to the former Soviet republic arranged for the pdfs to be released simultaneously on dozens of websites around the world. The story spread quickly as hundreds answered Murray’s call to duplicate the information on their own blog. This in turn eventually became a news story in its own right. The UK government’s heavy-handedness had backfired badly.
Today Craig is seeking to repeat the same trick, following libel threats from the infamous law firm Schillings – acting for “security contractor” Tim Spicer, over Murray’s new book “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”. The book raises new questions about both Tim Spicer and Tony Blair, in relation to the 1998 “Arms to Africa” scandal, in which Craig was a central figure.
After his original publisher pulled out of the deal, fearing a prohibitively expensive lawsuit under the UK’s rogue-state libel laws, Craig decided to publish the book himself, and then make the pdfs available online for free, on several different websites simultaneously.
Schillings have a track record of intimidating ISPs into taking down websites that paint their clients in a bad light, but by the time this post goes live, the entire book should be available via this link:
…and there’s a contents page here: http://www.upwingers.net/craigmurray/orangemen.pdf
It will be interesting to see how this story pans out over the next few days. Schillings are a clever bunch and I wouldn’t be surprised if they anticipate this move, given that it worked so well for Murray the first time around. If they have, then they may also have thought up something sneaky to try to counter it. What that something is, and whether or not it works, will remain to be seen…
It looks there may be some interesting things going on over at Craig Murray’s website shortly… Update to follow!
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the case of Matthias Rath, the German vitamin salesman who has urged HIV sufferers, most notoriously in South Africa, to stop taking real medicines and use ‘nutritional supplements’ instead. Rath has faced increasing international criticism for his activities, including from the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre, who ran a series of articles discussing Rath’s extraordinary claims. In response, Rath launched a libel suit – but this has now backfired disastrously. The evidence against Rath is so clear that he had no real chance of success, even under the UK’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws. Yesterday it was announced that he had abandoned the suit, with costs awarded of at least £200,000.
Today’s Guardian gives wall-to-wall coverage to Rath and his nefarious activities, with a damning video which discusses several cases of people who have died after being taken in by his bogus claims.
The UK Trade Unions Congress has endorsed a motion by the National Union of Journalists expressing ‘grave concern’ over the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, and the effect that this is having on freedom of expression.
“The terrorising of journalists isn’t just done by shadowy men in balaclavas, but also by governments and organisations who use the apparatus of the law or state authorities to suppress and distort the information they do not want the public to know and to terrorise the journalists involved through injunctions, threats to imprisonment and financial ruin,” NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear told the conference.
Dear cited the case of Sally Murrer, who is currently on trial for allegedly receiving information from a police officer that he had not been authorised to disclose, and the treatment by police of press photographers in a raid on the “Climate Camp” protest earlier this year.
“Journalists’ material and their sources are increasingly targeted by those who wish to pull a cloak of secrecy over their actions.”, Dear told the conference.
In a similar vein, Craig Murray reports being pressured to making swingeing changes to the text of his new book, “The Orangemen of Togo” (great title!) after Tim Spicer, formerly of the mercenary company Sandline, and now head of the quids-in Iraq ‘security contractor’ Aegis, hired infamous libel firm Schillings, and brought a legal injunction to delay publication.
Murray says that he’s been told, among a range of other changes, that:
- I must refer to Sandline as a “Private Military Company” and portray their activities in Africa as supporting legitimate government against rebels
- I must portray Western action in Iraq as “peace-keeping”
- I must say Shell were involved in corruption in Nigeria “inadvertently”
A few years ago, The Center for Public Integrity did an incisive exposé on Spicer, the origins of the euphemistic term ‘Private Military Company’, and the shady role of such organisations in conflicts as far afield as Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea. It’s sobering to think that someone with this sort of history is now in charge one of the largest contracts awarded to any western firm currently operating in Iraq.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I take a look at the disasters that can happen when freedom of expression starts to break down, and at Craig Murray’s role in exposing UK government wrongdoing after leaving his post as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
Last week I wrote about the defensive measures being taken in the US to prevent Britain’s rapacious libel laws being used to undermine freedom of speech internationally. Now, via Craig Murray’s blog, I’ve learned that our rogue state laws may have claimed another victim. The longstanding politics discussion site “Harry’s Place” has reportedly been temporarily closed down simply by the threat of libel being made against the site’s internet service provider, following a dispute with a Sheffield academic, Jenna Delich.
Contributors to “Harry’s Place” have accused Delich of linking, via her own website, to the site of the far-right anti-semite KKK all-round bad egg extremist David Duke. Delich says that these claims are libellous, hence the reported take-down demand.
As is traditional in such cases (see here for a previous fiasco in which, bizarrely, Boris Johnson got caught in the crossfire), the full saga is now being recounted on a site hurriedly put together on blogspot, which is a) very easy to use and b) hosted several thousand miles outside of UK jurisdiction.
Robert Maxwell, UK libel law’s most famous beneficiary
If I had to choose my all-time favourite bill ever passed by the New York State Legislature (a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon if ever there was one), it would have to be the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act”. The specific purpose of this bill is to stop Britain’s ‘rogue state’ libel laws from being used to undermine the constitutionally-protected right to freedom of speech in the state of New York.
Ironically, while the UK government allows our courts no jurisdiction over a murder committed overseas – even when the victim is a British citizen – it’s a different story when a book is published in a foreign country, which happens to offend someone with the time, inclination and (most importantly) cash to pursue their grievance in the UK courts.
The practice of ‘libel tourism’ relies on the fact that, with the internet, any book published anywhere in the world can be deemed to have effectively been published in the UK (and thereby fall under the jurisdiction of the UK libel courts) if it can be bought online and shipped to Britain. UK libel law famously places the burden of proof on the author/publisher of a work rather than on the plaintiff. A UK libel defendant is effectively guilty until proven innocent.
It’s also, I’m told, possible to defend a UK libel case successfully, yet still be left with massive legal costs to cover. Bringing a libel case can be very expensive, and is thus largely beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. So what we effectively have is a legal mechanism for allowing rich people and organisations to inflict crippling costs on anyone who says bad things about them, regardless of whether or not those things are actually true. During the 1970s and 1980s this mechanism was famously – and skillfully – exploited by the fraudster Robert Maxwell to suppress the many questions raised about his business deals. It was only after his somewhat mysterious death that the truth emerged. Perhaps the one saving grace of the law is that, at least in the UK, dead men can’t bring libel cases.
But with the advent of the internet, the phenomenon of ‘libel tourism’ gives the UK’s rapacious libel laws a global reach, and now pose such a threat to freedom of expression worldwide that foreign states are having to create legislation to protect their citizens.
The threat posed by ‘libel tourists’ is just one among a number of issues raised by a recent UN report on the state of human rights in the UK. Equally dangerous – if not more so, as we’ve been familiar with the libel problem for long enough to have at least some ways around it – is the Brown regime’s attempt to make it illegal for any former civil servant to say anything at all about their time in government, ever, without official permission from the state.
According to Craig Murray (ex UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan):
“The idea, of course, is that only the ministers’ version of truth will enter history. You can be confident that Jack Straw’s memoirs will not tell you that he instructed Richard Dearlove that we would use intelligence from torture, or that we colluded with torture and extraordinary rendition in Uzbekistan and elsewhere. You needed my memoirs for that. If Jack Straw had his way, I would not have been able to publish my book telling you the truth; in fact the new regulations were born directly out of Straw’s fury at Murder in Samarkand.”
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I explore the ease with which deception and delusion can start to creep in – and go unchecked – once freedom of expression has been compromised. An effectively functioning society depends on the free flow of information. The quicker that serious systemic problems can be identified, and analysed, the quicker solutions can be found. Attacks on freedom of expression seriously hinder this process, with the result that, at the extreme (as in the Soviet Union and Communist China), a wholesale national disaster can unfold without those in power ever facing up to the reality of what’s going on – less still being held accountable.