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whatonearth


Member

Posted Thu Jun 4th, 2009 10:08am Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
***Link to sign statement/petition here: http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/334

There is a link (second one out of three) underneath the statement that says 'sign the statement now'.***


Don't know how many of you are aware of this but Simon Singh is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for an article he wrote on them last year. I won't go into all the details now (it would take too long) but as a result there is a campaign being set up to reform English libel law. This is for a few reasons. First, it is far more expensive for a libel defendant in England than it is almost anywhere else (for a number of reasons). Second, as libel is a tort the burden of proof lies on the defendant to prove their innocence, rather than being presumed innocent until guilty. Third, as far as I'm aware there is no statutory public interest defence. If a writer publishes something libellious that turns out to be untrue for example (yet was of great enough importance to have been published anyway as if it was true it would have been in the public interest), their only public interest defence is the Reynold's defence, where they have to show they met ten criteria in showing that they took the correct measures to ensure they were reporting responsibly. As far as I know this isn't as easy as it sounds as it is much easier to analyse a person's actions in a court of law than it is to make sure you've taken every step required when you're trying to get a piece together.

There are other reasons but I'm worried I'm not really explaining this properly as I don't have any legal training, but there are lots and lots of links to this case where you can read more about it, but here are two of the main ones:

http://www.facebook.com/inbox/?ref=mb#/group.php?gid=33457048634
http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/ (if you click on the tab Simon Singh you can go back to the beginning and read all the articles relating to this case).
The original article: http://svetlana14s.narod.ru/Simon_Singhs_silenced_paper.html


And, for the sake of fairness and completeness, here is the BCA's website:
http://www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk/default.aspx?m=1&mi=1
And the original brochure: http://web.archive.org/web/20070206003656/http://w.....milies.pdf

Now for why I'm posting it here. Sense About Science has started a campaign regarding this case, which you can read about here: http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/

with a statement (that you can sign) to be sent to no. 10, the Department for Justice etc http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/334

which has also been signed by Stephen Fry, who has added this message of support:

It may seem like a small thing to some when claims are made without evidence, but there are those of us who take this kind of thing very seriously because we believe that repeatable evidence-based science is the very foundation of our civilisation. Freedom in politics, in thought and in speech followed the rise of empirical science which refused to take anything on trust, on faith, on hope or even on reason. The simplicity and purity of evidence is all that stands between us and the wildest kinds of tyranny, superstition and fraudulent nonsense. When a powerful organisation tries to silence a man of Simon Singh’s reputation then anyone who believes in science, fairness and the truth should rise in indignation. All we ask for is proof. Reasoned proof according to the established protocols of medicine and science everywhere. It is not science that is arrogant: science can be defined as ‘humility before the facts’ — it is those who refuse to submit to testing and make unsubstantiated claims that are arrogant. Arrogant and unjust.

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/343

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exoskeleton


Member

Posted Thu Jun 4th, 2009 5:02pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
indeed, I saw that last night. I also read the offending article. although I'm ignorant of UK libel laws beyond what you just described, I really enjoy science writing, and everything in that article is supported by quality evidence. I am especially fond of it because it looks at 70 trials and 5 studies and 700 cases across literature, not just anecdotes. The anecdotes are useful for the article but not the argument.

anyway, if anyone explained exactly what the prosecution's argument is I'd be interested.

I really should know more about the laws because as just a week or so ago the New York Times had an article about how the libel laws in the UK are being exploited internationally.

sockdolager.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Thu Jun 4th, 2009 6:45pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
I don't have time this minute but I'd be happy to try and answer any questions about the case/libel law, based on what I've read so far. Bearing in mind I am NOT a lawyer and pretty much everything I've learned about the law is as a result of this case. I'll try and provide links wherever possible.

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exoskeleton


Member

Posted Thu Jun 4th, 2009 6:47pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
oh, don't rush, just post whenever it's convenient. even if you just want to direct me to another site. I was trying to investigate this before on my own but I wasn't sure where to start. I'm not sure I know all the terminology.

sockdolager.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Thu Jun 4th, 2009 8:26pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
Oh not to worry, it'll be a good test of my knowledge anyway

indeed, I saw that last night. I also read the offending article. although I'm ignorant of UK libel laws beyond what you just described, I really enjoy science writing, and everything in that article is supported by quality evidence. I am especially fond of it because it looks at 70 trials and 5 studies and 700 cases across literature, not just anecdotes. The anecdotes are useful for the article but not the argument.

anyway, if anyone explained exactly what the prosecution's argument is I'd be interested.

I really should know more about the laws because as just a week or so ago the New York Times had an article about how the libel laws in the UK are being exploited internationally.

As I said in my original post, the best place to start is jackofkent.blogspot.com, which has some detailed coverage of the case.

The prosecution case has changed slightly since the litigation began. You can read about the original claim here: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-bcas-cas.....singh.html

Basically they are complaining about the part where Simon accuses the BCA of claiming to be able to treat conditions like infant colic, asthma etc without a jot of evidence, and that they promote bogus treatments. Until 7th May Simon Singh had three main defences to this: to deny that the comments he made were defamatory in the way the BCA claimed, fair comment (that his statement was a view a reasonable person could have held), and justification (that his claims are factually true).

However, on 7th May a preliminary hearing was held to determine the exact meaning of the section of Singh's article that the BCA have complained about. The hearing was something that was agreed upon by both parties to determine the exact meaning of the defamatory statements, so Singh could prepare his defence accordingly. Unfortunately the result of this hearing was that the judge, Mr Justice Eady, ruled that Singh's article was accusing the BCA of being deliberately dishonest in their claims, which Singh never intended to imply. He also ruled that although the piece was in the comment section of the newspaper, the substance of it could be interpreted as a statement of fact. As far as I know this means that he can no longer use the 'fair comment' defence, and has to justify his statement as fact. This means that under this ruling he would have to prove that not only was there no evidence for the BCA's claims, but that they were deliberately and dishonestly promoting 'bogus' treatments. As you can imagine, getting in to the mind of an organisation to know what they are thinking is pretty hard, and that's why Singh is appealing against this ruling.

Jack of Kent probably explains it much better here: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/05/bca-v-singh.....beral.html

And here is the official text of the ruling: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/05/bca-v-singh-official-ruling.html

And you can read more about Singh's defence here: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-putting-.....trial.html

As for libel tourism, well I haven't seen the New York Times article but I'm guessing it explains it much better than I could. I read a more detailed explanation of it in a book a couple of days ago, but I've forgotten a lot of the details about who can sue where I'm afraid. But basically, I think the main criteria for someone outside England to sue for libel here are that 1) the claimant has a reputation in England and 2) the defamatory statements have been accessed by people in England. I could be wrong about that though. Either way, it's a problem.

Finally, in case absolutely none of what I just said made sense, here are a few articles on current libel law:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/feb/23/libel-.....newspapers

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2008/08/on-english-.....e-for.html

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227086.200.....l-sue.html

OK well I've presented this a bit one-sidedly, for example there's no doubting that the media can behave very irresponsibly at times, but that's no reason to punish those who have important things to say just because they ruffle a few feathers.

I hope that made sense, I'm not always that good at explaining things :/

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Nitro


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 12:08am Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
This is all really interesting. Thanks for providing those links.

Mr. Singh seems to be in a tenable position according to Jack of Kents latest post. He's got quite a line up of 'names' behind his efforts to deal with the legal mire he's now in. But the courts aren't supposed to be ( *cough* ) influenced by big names but rather the letter of the law. And I guess that judge found a letter he could fixate on
X-D

It does seem to me that Mr.Singh went beyond commentary in the article. But still, this BCA(?)'s reaction to his article is the thing that is damning them the most IMHO. Even if they 'win' in the court, their insistance in crucifying Mr.Singh is a public relations boo-boo they might not, as a group of practitioners and as an organization desiring respectability, recover from.

What's that line? "Methinks you protest too much,"? X-D

Really? Wow.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 12:25am Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
This is all really interesting. Thanks for providing those links.

Mr. Singh seems to be in a tenable position according to Jack of Kents latest post. He's got quite a line up of 'names' behind his efforts to deal with the legal mire he's now in. But the courts aren't supposed to be ( *cough* ) influenced by big names but rather the letter of the law. And I guess that judge found a letter he could fixate on
X-D

It does seem to me that Mr.Singh went beyond commentary in the article. But still, this BCA(?)'s reaction to his article is the thing that is damning them the most IMHO. Even if they 'win' in the court, their insistance in crucifying Mr.Singh is a public relations boo-boo they might not, as a group of practitioners and as an organization desiring respectability, recover from.

What's that line? "Methinks you protest too much,"? X-D

I think the campaign is trying to persuade Parliament more than it is the courts. We shall see though.

In a sense I can understand the ruling as well, however that's really only when you take the offending statement out of the context of the article as a whole, which overall seems to imply that the BCA is more deluded than dishonest. Either way, Simon has my full support as precise wording aside, I believe he is right both in fact and in principle. English libel law needs to change and as Stephen says, scientific debate should be about discussing the evidence, not threatening people with legal action.

Fun fact: I read in Media Law by Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol that libel law did for a while demand that the burden of proof lied with the claimant, not the defendant, however that changed in the nineteenth and twentieth century to protect 'British gentlemen', along with a number of other aspects of defamation law. And yet it still stands. There may be more to it than that but reading about that aspect of it was still quite an eye-opener.

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Nitro


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 5:16am Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry


I think the campaign is trying to persuade Parliament more than it is the courts. We shall see though.

Pardon my ignorance, but isn't the courts where Simon's fate lies? Or can Parliment intervene in any court decision?


In a sense I can understand the ruling as well, however that's really only when you take the offending statement out of the context of the article as a whole, which overall seems to imply that the BCA is more deluded than dishonest. FWIW, I agree.



Either way, Simon has my full support as precise wording aside, I believe he is right both in fact and in principle. English libel law needs to change and as Stephen says, scientific debate should be about discussing the evidence, not threatening people with legal action.

Well, that's the thing. If the BCA's 'evidence' really were evidence as understood in general scientific prinicples, then they wouldn't be so offended by the article. Rather, they'd produce a rebuttal with evidence. Their taking him to court on a libel charge undermines in totality their standing in the scientific community, specifically, medical science.



Fun fact: I read in Media Law by Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol that libel law did for a while demand that the burden of proof lied with the claimant, not the defendant, however that changed in the nineteenth and twentieth century to protect 'British gentlemen', along with a number of other aspects of defamation law. And yet it still stands. There may be more to it than that but reading about that aspect of it was still quite an eye-opener.

Hmm...I wunner what them British 'gentlemen' were hiding X-D [/u]

Really? Wow.

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exoskeleton


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 6:56am Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
thanks for the links! I'll check out that blog more thoroughly tomorrow. (it being nearly 1 AM here, probably not in the best state to absorb the facts.)

it does seem rather harsh to decide that he thought they were being purposefully deceitful. that does put a different spin on the matter, though. I guess I'll have more to say once I've caught up with the Jack of Kent stuff.

sockdolager.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 2:25pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry


I think the campaign is trying to persuade Parliament more than it is the courts. We shall see though.

Pardon my ignorance, but isn't the courts where Simon's fate lies? Or can Parliment intervene in any court decision?

The campaign is to reform libel laws overall, not just to defend Simon Singh. So even if he does lose his case because of the way the law currently works, if (oh, if!) the laws are reformed then this could benefit potential libel defendants in the future.



Either way, Simon has my full support as precise wording aside, I believe he is right both in fact and in principle. English libel law needs to change and as Stephen says, scientific debate should be about discussing the evidence, not threatening people with legal action.

Well, that's the thing. If the BCA's 'evidence' really were evidence as understood in general scientific prinicples, then they wouldn't be so offended by the article. Rather, they'd produce a rebuttal with evidence. Their taking him to court on a libel charge undermines in totality their standing in the scientific community, specifically, medical science.

What's bothering me about this at the moment is that the BCA claim that they asked for an apology and a retraction but were refused one, while Simon Singh says this:

Initially The Guardian newspaper tried its best to settle the matter out of court by making what seemed to be a very generous offer. There was an opportunity for the BCA to write a 500 word response to my article to be published in The Guardian, allowing the BCA to present its evidence. There was also the offer of a clarification in the "Corrections and Clarifications" column, which would have pointed out: "The British Chiropractic have told us they have substantial evidence supporting the claim they make on their website that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying. (Beware the spinal trap, page 26, April 19)."

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/340

However the BCA's press release seems to be carefully worded to say that Simon himself did not offer to write a retraction, which is quite sneaky. I hope it's them being sneaky anyway! So all the time the BCA are going on about how it's 'not a freedom of speech issue', if what I'm guessing is true then they're basically just lying through their teeth.



Fun fact: I read in Media Law by Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol that libel law did for a while demand that the burden of proof lied with the claimant, not the defendant, however that changed in the nineteenth and twentieth century to protect 'British gentlemen', along with a number of other aspects of defamation law. And yet it still stands. There may be more to it than that but reading about that aspect of it was still quite an eye-opener.

Hmm...I wunner what them British 'gentlemen' were hiding X-D [/u]

Haha well I've just had a skim through the bit I read, and it says that the law was basically set out to establish whether or not the Victorian male was indeed a 'gentleman'. It then refers to two cases, one where a man was accused of cheating at cards, and another of shooting foxes - and here the authors joke 'just not done, old chap, to shoot a fox: a gentleman hunts it down with dogs'.

So probably not as scandalous as you were expecting, but still fairly entertaining


Anyway sorry for my slight obsession over this, I'm unemployed at the moment and trying to avoid housework!

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Fri Jun 5th, 2009 9:30pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
Has anyone signed this yet? Just in case you missed it, here is the statement to be signed: http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/334

There is a link (second one out of three) underneath the statement that says 'sign the statement now'.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Sun Jun 7th, 2009 6:57pm Post subject: English libel law - support for change from Stephen Fry
*bump*

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