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…