Sunday, 21 February 2010

Not the Reform of English Libel Law

As we all know, The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, has ordered a comprehensive review of England's much-criticised libel laws.

I’m rather hoping for a scene reminiscent of Constable Savage’s appearance before the Superintendent.


STRAW: Come in, shut the door.



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: Now then, English Libel Law, I want to talk to you about some of the libel cases that you've been bringing lately. I think that perhaps you're stifling freedom of expression.



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Which libel cases did you mean then, sir?



STRAW: Well, for instance this one: ‘Writing a newspaper article that says that there is not a jot of evidence to support the use of chiropractic treatment for childhood ailments’. And neither should ‘Criticising a vitamin pill salesman who claims to cure AIDS’ be an offence.

ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Are you sure, sir?



STRAW: Also, there should be no law against: ‘Publishing a book on how terrorism is financed and how to stop it’, or ‘Presenting an eye witness testimony of individuals responsible for crimes against humanity in the Rwandan genocide

ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: If you say so, sir...



STRAW: Yes, I do say so, English Libel Law! Didn't they teach you anything at libel school?



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Erm, I'm sorry, sir...



STRAW: Some of these cases are just plain stupid: ‘Slagging off Sheffield Wednesday football club’- Is this some kind of joke?



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: No, sir.



STRAW: And we have some more here: ‘Writing a novel with a fictional character that happens to share a name with real person, 'revealing the corruption within Scotland Yard by writing a book about Bent Coppers,' and ‘Challenging misconduct in academic research papers by putting forward ideas on why clinical trials on the STARFlex device used to close a hole between the right and left atriums of the heart in order to reduce the incidence of migraine, might be negative' In short, English Libel Laws, you have hindered the free exchange of ideas and are having a chilling effect on legitimate publications.

ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: Using English Libel Law.


ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: Putting the burden of proof on the defendant.



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: Sit down.



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: Why do you keep ruling in favour of wealthy respondents?



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: To attempt to silence authors.



STRAW: Authors?



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: And science writers sir.



STRAW: I know its attempting to silence science writers, we’ve got one in court this week. He’s appealing against his illiberal ruling on meaning.

ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Well - well, there you are, sir.



STRAW: Your illiberal ruling!



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Thank you, sir.



STRAW: Would I be correct in assuming that all your claimants are rich?


ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Well, I can't say I've ever noticed, sir.



STRAW: Stand up, English Libel Law! – English Libel Law, you're attempting to crush free speech. It's laws like you that give the courts a bad name. English Pen, Sense about Science and Index of Censorship love to jump on instances like this, and the reputation of the courts can be permanently tarnished. Your costs encourage libel tourism and attempt to silence valid criticism. Do you know American states are passing their own laws to make them exempt from your rulings.


ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Yes, sir.



STRAW: There's no room for laws like yours in my courts. I'm transferring you to the treasury.



ENGLISH LIBEL LAW: Thank you very much, sir.



STRAW: Now get out!


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