Human Rights House Foundation

United Kingdom

Image: Singh 
Copyright: www.independent.co.uk

Freedom of expression vs right to reputation: rebalancing?

A court ruling today affirmed popular science writer Simon Singh’s, right, right to free expression. He has been granted leave to appeal in the libel action brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009, by HRH in London, based on www.indexoncensorship.org

The ruling by Lord Justice Laws grants Singh leave to appeal Mr Justice Eady’s ruling against him.

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”.

Laws also pointed out that 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.

Laws said there was “no question” of the “good faith” of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was “clearly in the public interest”.

Speaking after the judgement, Singh told Index on Censorship this was the “best possible result”.

“But I try not to get my hopes up,” he continued. “We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the court of appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead. Reform of English libel laws, particularly the right to a public interest defence and a fairer costs structure, are vital.”

The BCA was not represented at this morning’s hearing.

Background

Singh is being sued for defamation by the BCA, following the publication of a piece in the Guardian last year questioning the association’s claims about the effectiveness of certain treatments. Mr Justice Eady had ruled that the author's use of the word "bogus" implied that the BCA deliberately endorsed treatments they knew to be questionable.

Singh was initially refused leave to appeal.

Index on Censorship is campaigning with English PEN to reform the libel laws and will be publishing its recommendations on 10 November.

The charity, Sense abour Science (SaS), has started a campaign to Keep the Libel Laws out of Science.

HRH in London, based on www.indexoncensorship.org

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