Judge Attacks Stifling Of Free Speech And 'Libel Tourism'

By The Daily Mail, UK | by Steve Doughty
Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 @ 12:48AM

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Demand: Lord Chief Justice calls for new laws to rein in the powers of judges in libel cases The Lord Chief Justice yesterday delivered a sharp warning to judges not to trespass on the freedoms of Parliament. ᅠ Lord Judge, who acts as the figurehead for the judiciary, said it was a ‘fundamental principle’ that the courts should not try to interfere with what MPs do and say. And he called for new laws to rein in the powers of judges in libel cases, saying he was ‘not proud’ that the restrictive rulings of British courts have made London the world capital for so-called libel tourism. The warning from Lord Judge, the most senior judge in England and Wales, came after a series of scandals surrounding judicial decisions which have widened privacy and libel laws. Last week a judge angered MPs by granting an injunction to oil industry company Trafigura which prevented any mention of its activities. The ban included suppression of a question asked in Parliament by a Labour MP. This was highly unusual because Parliament is supposed to enjoy absolute privilege, meaning that all statements made within it are free from prosecution for defamation. The injunction was later withdrawn after fierce resistance from the media. 
Lord Judge said it was wrong for judges to interfere with Parliament and freedoms built up over centuries. ‘I should need some very powerful persuasion indeedᅠ -ᅠ and that, I suppose, is close to saying I simply cannot envisageᅠ -ᅠ that it would be constitutionally possible, or proper, for a court to make an order which might prevent or hinder or limit discussion of any topic in Parliament,’ he said. He added: ‘The absolute privilege for members to speak freely in Parliament did not come without a price and previous generations fought, and indeed died, for it. It is a very precious heritage which, in my view, should be vigorously maintained and defended.’ Lord Judge also condemned the use of London courts by wealthy and powerful litigants from around the world to silence criticism. Last week California joined a growing list of American legislatures to pass a law banning ‘libel tourism’ so that local citizens do not have to obey libel judgments laid down in British courts. Legislators said they wanted to pressure foreign jurisdictions like Britain to change its laws to place greater protections on free speech’. Among cases that worried state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was one in which a British judge ordered all copies of a book about a Saudi oil sheik’s alleged support for terrorism to be pulped. The book by an American author had never been published in Britain. Lord Judge said: ‘I am not proud that London is said to be the libel capital of the world. ‘Justice should be done where wrong has been done. We need to look very closely at the reasons why it is asserted that London is the libel capital of the world.’

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