English Libel Laws Facilitate Libel Tourism

By Europe News | by Rachel Ehrenfeld
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 @ 9:39PM

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English libel laws dating back to 1849 allow foreigners to sue other foreigners in English courts a practice known as “libel tourism”. in addition, England’s plaintiff-friendly libel law is at loggerheads with American principles of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. Libel Tourism is used a weapon to silence foreign publishers and writers in print and on the internet. Moreover, Britain’s libel law silence free expression. In July 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated it was “concerned” that Britain’s libel law had “served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest”.

It does so by use of two absurd presumptions: that defamatory (i.e. critical) statements are always false, and that defamations always do significant damage. These two presumptions of “falsity and damage are both in terms illogical, but are in law irrebuttable and further proof that English law disfavours free speech,” said Mark Stephens, a London-based libel expert.

The case that led U.S. legislatures to pass laws to protect American writers and publishers from such lawsuit, was Khalid bin Mahfouz – a Saudi billionaire lawsuit against Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American author, for statement she made in her book: Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It. The book was not published in the U.K. or even marketed there. But Mahfouz claim that 23 copies were sold in England on the internet, and that was enough to give him jurisdiction to sue the New York based author.

Ehrenfeld refused to acknowledge the British court. Instead, she demanded the free speech protections she thought she had in New York. She lost the case in London by default. In response, the New York legislature passed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, in May 2008. The laws protects New Yorkers from libel tourists. Illinois and Florida passed similar laws and in California the governor is about to sign the anti-libel tourism law. The New Jersey legislature is also considering an anti-libel tourism law. A bi-partisan Free Speech Protection Act 2009 is now pending in Congress.

The law will ensure that U.S.-based journalists, researchers and publishers no longer need to fear the pernicious threat of foreign libel judgments, and will allow the deterrent of countersuits for damages. This law will allow American writers to freely investigate and report on matters of national and international significance. The U.S. is creating new laws to protect reporters free expression. But it is pertinent that the British libel law, similar laws in British commonwealth states, and other countries are amended to protect the free expression of local and foreign authors and journalists.

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Categories: Free Speech & Libel Tourism