Friday, 2 April 2010

Now you can't sue me

Well, almost. You can sue me, but your chances of winning have considerably diminished. In a landmark ruling yesterday, the British Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the science writer Simon Singh in the libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).

Simon Singh is a British science writer. In a column in The Guardian in April 2008, Simon Singh criticized the BCA making these comments

“You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments”

The BCA objected to this. The Guardian offered them the chance to write a rebuttal. They refused this and instead brought a libel suit against Simon Singh.

To any sane man, this libel suit is strange, at best. However the British libel laws, being what they are, apparently the burden of proof rested with the defendant. If I say that in my opinion you are an ass, then it means that I am implying that factually you are an ass and if you bring a libel suit against me, its up to me to prove that you are indeed an ass. The original court upheld that an opinion Simon Singh expressed, was actually an implied statement of fact . He went on appeal and has now won. But in the process his career as a writer has been ruined and he has been financially compromised - having to spend some ₤200,000 in legal costs, although others have contributed. And the story is not over. The BCA has threatened to appeal against the current ruling.

Apparently hundreds of cases are brought against people expressing opinions that somebody does not like. Faced with ruinous legal costs of defending, they simply capitulate, back down and censor themselves. Somewhat similar to the strong arm tactics employed by a number of gentlemen sharing the surname Thackeray.

A significant angle to the libel laws in the UK is that it promotes “libel tourism”. It does not matter if you live in some other country and publish something there. If it was capable of being read in the UK, you can bring a libel suit in the UK. The community it affects the most are bloggers. If a blog is capable of being downloaded in the UK, then the libel case can be brought in the UK. With such libel laws, the UK has become the capital for libel tourism.

This is actually a strange position. Anybody even remotely familiar with the UK knows that its newspapers hit abysmal lows every day in scandals and sleazy journalism. And yet it seems to have the toughest libel laws around. I simply don’t understand this.

This blogger is notorious for being highly opinionated and expressing them freely, sometimes passing them off as fact. For example, here’s a tip for Gils. A few days ago, this blog featured some comments about his sartorial colour preferences. He has every right to claim to have been libeled. Now this blog is definitely capable of being read in the UK, although nobody really does. However there is at least one reader who has commented here in the past and she lives in the UK – clear proof that what is written can have ramifications in Her Majesty’s land. So the logical course of action for Gils would have been to sue me in a British Court for libel. Unfortunately he is a bit too late – he should have done so last week !!

Bloggers beware !!


G3 said...

Me the firstae :))

//So the logical course of action for Gils would have been to sue me in a British Court for libel. //

Ada neenga vera.. avarae namakku oruthar ippadi OC vilambaram kudukkararaennu kushila irukkaru.. neenga vena avarta paisa kekkalaam.. ovvoru postlayum avar blogkku link kuduthu vilambaram pandradhukku :)))

Vishal said...

Really strange, on one side there is freedom to express your opinion and on the other side there are such strong libel laws. Wonder how stringent is the Indian proposition in this regard. But still, anything (said under the sky in whatsoever form) capable of being brought in court in itself is a tough ask for the defendent.

Tough luck Gils - you have missed a rare chance to sue our super"blog"man. ;-)

Ramesh said...

@G3 - Now, that's an idea. Yes, this does look like a Gils fan club. Gils - can I have a million bucks please ??

@Vishal - There is no such thing as libel in India. Certainly not something you can get a decision from a court in under 76 years. Far more effective is the Thackeray brand of policing libel.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry dear friend GILS, the period of limitation for suing for libel is one year from the date of publication. You still have a plump chance. Do not forget the commission for this advice! :)

(sorry Ramesh! U r still my favourite blogger.)

One then has to use dollops of 'probably, maybe, apparently, approximately, etc etc'!! On the face of it, it appears to be a well meaning act actually. Because there are people who simply use their tongue because they have one. But looks like a badly framed statute!

- Deepa.

Sandhya Sriram said...

Adding to Deepa, GILs has some more options as well.
the Libel Laws enable one to sue the author of the article, the magazine in which the article is published, and even others who have read the blog and directly or indirectly expressed their concurrence to the subject the blog which also includes Deepa who commented on the subject piece as a smash hit.

having said this a saving grace for you is that some high court it seems has ruled that defamation on internet bulletin boards is akin to a slander rather than a libel which is not punishable in the UK Law.

PS - Whether GILs sues or not, Mr.Lloyd Blankfein stand a heavy chance. so beware Ramesh

ambulisamma said...

Gils pathi sonnavodane G3 kaala vara vandhuttanga,but paarunga avarukku evalo supportu.

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - Aha ; Gils won't win if he sued because now the precedent has been set and with the Brits precedent is more important than logic !!

@Sandhya - I can handle Gils (??) but Mr Blankfein - OMG I am going to be bankrupted !! Some pichai please :)

@ambulisamma - Actually G3 is gils' most favourite supporter :)

G3 said...

//Actually G3 is gils' most favourite supporter :)//

Ramesh, idhukku neenga enna bad wordsaalayae thitti irukkalaam :((((

G3 said...

I think, now I have a reason to sue U :P

Durga said...

Even before I could read the para wher eyou mentioned the Thackerays, i started drawing parallels to them! Such is the weight of the exapmle! As Vishal rightly said, it is strange that we have freedom of speech on one hand and stringent libel laws on the other!

Ramesh said...

@G3 - Ha Ha. Now a joint G3/Gils suit I have to defend :)

@Durga - You thought that way too ? Can somethin g be done about those gentlemen ? I fear not !

gils said...

intha postil gils endra peyar ethanai murai idam (allathu valam) petrullathu endru thavaraga kooruvorku odhai vazhaga padumnu poattiye arivikalam polarukay :D :D avvvvvvvvvvvvv...neengalam imbuttu nallavangala!! :D thalaivaray i no sue..out of court settlementa oru 1000 billion yuan kuduthrunga :D

Thiru K'ung Tzu said...

@gils - Gilsu; welcome back. naan romba ezhai saar. oru yuan kooda pocketla illai !!!

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