Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Singh Wins Right To Appeal

We discuss Nick's views on libel here so the story Simon Singh Wins Leave To Appeal In Bca Libel Case seems moot. This was all over Twitter this morning, but Google News throws up only the Index on Censorship post.

In a scathing rebuttal of Mr Justice Eady’s previous judgement in the case, Lord Justice Laws said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Mr Justice Laws described Eady’s judgement, centred on Singh’s use of the word “bogus” in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as “legally erroneous”.


We will hear more on this very soon, probably in the Observer on Sunday. I am not a lawyer, so readers can speculate away on their own.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

IANAL either, but this looks key:

Eady’s judgement had conflated two issues — the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.

As I understand it, Eady & his defenders say that Singh's word choice condemns him: he used the word 'bogus', which implies a knowing attempt to defraud, and as such his piece automatically went beyond fair comment ("those treatments don't work") into libel ("those treatments don't work and they know it").

This makes a certain kind of sense, but applied more broadly it would have a really monstrous chilling effect - every theatre review would have to be double-checked for allegations of incompetence. And laws are there to be applied more broadly - the clue's in the name. So Laws is talking sense - any reading of offensive or libellous statements has to be qualified by assumptions deriving from the medium in which those statements are made. Of course there are limits - 'fair comment' can't extend to stating that Comfy-Spine Chiropractics of 11 Station Approach, Bromley are making money by deception, even if you make a joke in the next sentence. But it surely should accommodate 'bogus'.

Common sense wins battle shock. Good for Singh and good for Laws.

10/14/2009 12:28:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

IANAL either (my ex is, but she specialises in personal injury not libel) but I think Phil is basically correct here with the emphasis on bogus as the key point.

Two things come to mind. One, which might not be comfortable for Nick, is ITN vs Living Marxism[1], in which the judge ruled that whether the ITN report was misleading was beside the point - LM had to prove that it was deliberately misleading. Eady could quite easily cite that as a precedent.

Secondly, I think fair comment should certainly be broad enough to include the use of "bogus", but there's obviously a spectrum here. If you write that a fellow journalist's book is full of things that are not only untrue, but that he knew to be untrue, I'm not sure Laws would smile on that.

Somewhat OT, but there is a surprising lack of Decency in the latest Private Eye, and I didn't spot anything on libel tourism (there may be something in the back that has escaped me). I can't see a Ratbiter, and Street of Shame is back to sniggering about Bryony Gordon's tits, as if Telegraph readers didn't get enough of them in Bryony's column.

[1] Lest I encur the Wrath of Marko, I am specifically referring here to the legal aspect of the LM case, and nothing herein should be taken as indicating agreement with anything ever published in LM.

10/14/2009 09:55:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

there's obviously a spectrum here. If you write that a fellow journalist's book is full of things that are not only untrue, but that he knew to be untrue, I'm not sure Laws would smile on that.

I'm also pretty sure that it would count as defamation in the US, and it's fairly clearly motivated by malice, though as with the others, IANAL.

I'm all for reforming the libel laws, and I'm all for the exposure of the excesses of the courts, but I just can't take Cohen (or indeed David Toube) seriously as a campaigner on the issue, since even under the current setup he's so often cavalier with the facts and so much of what he does seems to be motivated by malice. The Davies is a case in point - and as for proving that HP Sauce are motivated by malice... not sure how difficult that'd be either. And although I still subscribe, and although I think that Cohen's libel stuff reads easier when anonymously printed therein, it's not like you couldn't demonstrate that Private Eye is motivated by vendettas in some of the stuff it publishes.

I can't help thinking that Nick is attracted to these cases not by the issues but rather the libel - that was fairly clearly the case with the piece on mathematicians and libel - and that's a bit of a worry.

oh and:

'fair comment' can't extend to stating that Comfy-Spine Chiropractics of 11 Station Approach, Bromley are making money by deception

I think that Cohen believes that fair comment should extend to that.

10/15/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

btw on aaro watching:

http://www.commentawards.com/Awards/2009-Winners-1

beaten to the 'poison pen' by Littlejohn, and the 'commentariat' by Martin Wolf. Though the Times won the best comment pages award.

10/15/2009 08:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Random silly suggestion:

Why not put the entire content of the post in your rss feed? Having to hop into the site in order to read it is a bit of an annoyance.

10/15/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

By "moot", do you mean "of no legal significance", or "worth debating"?

10/16/2009 02:58:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Actually, I tell a lie. A closer examination of the current Eye reveals a Ratbiter on page 29. It's about court secrecy vis-a-vis the new Supreme Court, and apart from gathering that Nick is agin court secrecy, it's not very illuminating. Not least because he's back to his old trick of running together three totally separate cases and claiming a significant pattern, which might be seen as conspiratorial thinking.

I share OC's worry about Nick on libel. I do have the view that he and Toube, and several of their mates, have such a wide view of fair comment as to effectively be demanding the right to libel whomsoever they choose.

10/16/2009 07:53:00 PM  

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