Tuesday 3 August 2010

FT leader: 'Humiliation of UK libel laws in the US'

The new bill by the House of Representatives declaring English libel judgments to be unenforceable in the US courts "marked a new humiliation for libel to have a statute passed specifically to hammer home its incompatibility with free speech," the Financial Times says in a leader today.
It argues: "The House has a point. The balance in libel law is tilted too far against the defendant, encouraging litigants to use it to gag unwelcome voices. But that is only one of several problems. Libel actions drag on too long and are excessively expensive, making defendants reluctant to contest them."
The FT leader notes: "The US system effectively denies recourse to libel unless malicious intent can be proved. That is certainly appealing in that it would stop, say, companies using libel law to silence critics. But it would not be enough simply to relax press restrictions. Changes to libel law cannot be made without regard to privacy, where the media’s right to investigate must be balanced with the right of people not to be subjected to invasive gossip.
"Moreover, a more permissive libel law requires a responsible media. The aim must be to establish an effective, quick and fast system of redress short of full libel proceedings. The Press Complaints Commission does not have sufficient teeth. One option might be a specialist libel tribunal outside the courts system. This could respond expeditiously and more cheaply to privacy infringements.The Con-Lib coalition has promised to look at libel law – and not before time. It neither works well nor enjoys widespread confidence. It should change."

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