Friday, March 19, 2010

Plans for the day

Actually, I am running a little late not least because the internet connection is slower than it ought to be. But I plan to go to Milton Keynes and try my hand at some live-blogging from the UKIP Spring Conference. Might work or it might not be interesting enough.

In the meantime, let me call my readers' attention to this report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee: Press standards, privacy and libel. I am reading it and there will be a full posting on the subject. However, I found this very paragraph from the Summary of particular interest:
We discuss the damage 'libel tourists' have caused to the UK's reputation as a country which protects free speech and freedom of expression, especially in the United States, where a number of states have enacted legislation to protect their citizens from the enforcement of libel settlements made in foreign jurisdictions. We also comment on bills currently before the US Congress which are designed to afford similar protections. We conclude that it is a humiliation for our system that the US legislators should feel the need to take steps to protect freedom of speech from what are seen as unreasonable incursions by our courts. We note that neither the Lord Chancellor nor his officials have sought to discuss the matter with their US counterparts, and urge that such discussions should take place as soon as possible. We further suggest that, in cases where the UK is not the primary domicile or place of business of the claimant or defendant, the claimant should face additional hurdles before being allowed to bring a case.
I am looking forward to reading why the Committee thinks that it is "a humiliation for our system that the US legislators should feel the need to take steps to protect freedom of speech from what are seen as unreasonable incursions by our courts". The reference, I assume, is to the various states passing what is known as Rachel's Law after Rachel Ehrenfeld who started the process when an English libel court found against her for some well documented statements she made in a book that was not even published in this country after her "victim", who does not live in this country, sued. (Full disclosure: Rachel is a good friend and I have followed the case here and on EUReferendum in some detail.)

As I pointed out recently, the Lord Chancellor has set up a Working Group to examine this country's libel laws and to suggest possible reforms. Of course, nothing much has been heard of it since that statement and it is, probably, time to ask a few questions about the progress of the examination.

Meanwhile, other countries might well decide to adopt their version of Rachel's Law. A loyal reader of this blog drew my attention to this piece on EUObserver: Denmark wants Brussels to stop UK Mohammed cartoon lawsuit.

This is not, as our friends on the other side of the Pond, the right way to go about it. For one thing, it consolidates the position of the European Commission as a body that can overrule legal cases and legal processes within member states, hardly a satisfactory position if you believe in an independent judiciary. For another, it is unlikely to work as the Commission tends to believe in legal and political integration at the strongest level.

If the Danish Minister of Justice really does believe that:
But it would be taking it to the extreme if a UK court could rule against the Danish media and then require compensation and court costs to be paid
then Denmark had better start thinking of its own version of Rachel's Law. I am sure Dr Ehrenfeld would agree to be a consultant.

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