'Liberal' Libel Law: Still a Disgrace to Democracy
Publisher: Spiked Online
Date Written: 21/03/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21070
In the age of social media, our allegedly liberal libel laws might pose more of a threat to unfettered free speech than ever.
We lost, as fully expected under libel laws that were so infamously weighted against defendants that the rich and powerful from around the world came to London to try to sue their critics into silence. (We had nevertheless stuck to our guns and refused to apologise as a point of principle.) Libel claimants only had to assert that 'the words complained of had done them harm', without any need to offer proof. The onus was then on the defendants to try to prove every word we had written was true; worse, we had to prove the 'meaning' the court attached to those words, even if it was not what we meant! In a reverse of legal norms, defamation defendants were effectively deemed guilty until proven innocent.
On the steps of the High Court after the verdict in March 2000, which had bankrupted LM and left us owing a million pounds in costs and damages, I told the waiting media that the only thing the case had proved 'beyond reasonable doubt' was that libel law was 'a disgrace to democracy and a menace to free speech'.