Monday, June 22, 2009
From the Guardian's Robert Sharp, a commentary on libel laws in the UK and reaction to the US House of Representatives' passing of a bill intended to protect against the effects of British defamation judgments. Says Mr. Sharp,
The bill erects a legal barricade for Americans against the growing problem of "libel tourism", the phenomenon whereby foreigners sue each other in British courts, sometimes on the most spurious of grounds.
When the concept of a "gentleman's good reputation", devised in the 18th century to avoid the problem of duels, is applied uncritically in the globalised and connected 21st century, Her Majesty's judges are cornered into handing down rulings which amaze her subjects.
With laws stacked overwhelmingly in favour of the claimant, the UK has become the jurisdiction of choice for anyone wishing to silence or suppress a journalist working anywhere in the world. We have unwittingly allowed our courts to become an international libel tribunal, and free speech is suffering as a result.
But no longer for Americans. Ever the exceptionalists, they are acting to ensure that at least their investigative journalists are protected. The measures enacted, first by the state of New York and now mirrored at a federal level, seek to end the principle of comity, a legal reciprocity whereby libel damages awarded in the UK can be enforced in the US.