Another step in science writer Simon Singh's long running legal case, in which he is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in 2008, began in the Appeal Court today.The case has prompted the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign and has already cost freelance Singh more than £100,000 in legal costs.
Singh was sued by the BCA over his article which questioned the lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors make on treating certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.
In May last year, Mr Justice Eady, in a preliminary ruling in the dispute, upheld the BCA's pleaded meaning and held that Singh's comments were factual assertions rather than mere expressions of opinion - which means that he cannot use the defence of fair comment.
At the Court of Appeal in London today, Adrienne Page QC, for Singh, told the judges: "The appeal raises important issues of principle as to the limits of free expression on matters of public interest, particularly in the context of the fair comment defence.
She said Singh met the "cardinal test" or "touchstone" of a fair comment defence.
Before the hearing Singh said: "I am determined to defend my article as I maintain that it is fair and touches on an issue of serious public interest, namely the health of children. My greatest desire is that journalists in future should not have to endure such an arduous and expensive libel process. Cases like mine mean that people are afraid to speak out about whether treatments are worthwhile and effective.
"It has been almost two years since the article was published, and yet we are still at the preliminary stage of identifying the meaning of my article. It could easily take another two years before the case is resolved. As well as the drain on time, the case is financially very damaging and I have already accumulated legal bills in excess of £100,000, and even if I do win my case I will not be able to recover all of this."
The appeal hearing is set to last all day and the judges are expected to reserve their decision.
Sources: PA Mediapoint, Press Gazette
Pic: Jon Slattery