Britain’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws have become an international embarrassment, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Friday, vowing to change rules that have made the country a “libel tourism” destination for angry corporations and foreign celebrities.
In a speech on civil liberties, Clegg said the existing laws, which place the burden of proof on defendants, have a chilling effect on journalism and scientific debate.
It is “simply not right when academics and journalists are effectively bullied into silence” by the prospect of costly legal battles, he said.
Libel laws in many countries, including the US, generally require plaintiffs to prove a published article was both false and written maliciously. In Britain, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to demonstrate what it published was true.
That has led celebrities and corporations to sue in British courts, even when the case has only a tenuous connection to the UK — a form of “libel tourism” the government has vowed to curb.
In 2006, US actress Kate Hudson successfully sued the National Enquirer for libel in London, relying on the fact that the US publication has a British edition. In another case, a Saudi businessman successfully sued an American academic over a US-published book about the financing of terrorism that had sold only 23 copies in Britain.
Clegg said the system has become “a farce — and an international embarrassment.”
Saying that the US Congress last year passed a law protecting US citizens from the enforcement of legal settlements in foreign jurisdictions such as Britain, Clegg called Britain’s libel laws “an international laughing stock.”
Some legal experts disagreed.
“The US is not the world, and the fact that they do not like our libel laws should not be interpreted as meaning they are an international laughing stock,” said Rod Dadak, head of defamation at law firm Lewis Silkin.
Clegg said a new draft defamation law would be produced in the next few months. He said it would introduce a new defense of speaking in the public -interest, and clarify the existing libel defenses to stop claimants suing “on what are essentially trivial grounds.”
He also said the law would be updated to give more protection to people who write on the Internet.
Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party, have long been known as champions of civil liberties and equality. Since becoming part of a coalition government with the Conservatives in May, the Lib Dems have had to backtrack on many issues, including a long-standing promise to abolish university tuition fees — due to triple under the current government.
That has seen the party’s popularity plummet to single figures in opinion polls. With his speech on freedom of speech and civil liberties on Friday, Clegg was returning to more comfortable ground.
He promised to “restore British liberties” and repeal several measures introduced by the previous Labour administration in the name of fighting crime and terrorism. The government has already scrapped a plan for national identity cards and promised to cull the police DNA database, one of the world’s largest.
Clegg acknowledged that “the threat we face from terrorists is very, very real,” but said “Labour got the balance between liberty and security wrong” by introducing over-restrictive measures.
Clegg acknowledged the government faces a struggle to reform the contentious system of “control orders,” under which a handful or terrorist suspects are held under a form of house arrest because there is not enough evidence to take them to court.
“I don’t think it’s justifiable to impose virtual house arrest without having to charge or convict someone first,” Clegg said, but he admitted that there was “a small number of people” who are a danger to Britain, but can’t be brought to court.
Clegg said the control order system would be changed, but he couldn’t say how.
“I am going to change it,” he said. “What I am not prepared now to say is what aspect of the regime is going to change.”
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around