Simon Singh recently won his libel battle with the BCA. It was an important victory for freedom of speeech but there is still much to do to protect freedom of speech in the UK.
To explain what it is all about, and why it is important, I am reproducing the content of an email he sent me.
If you care about freedom, please sign his petition! http://www.libelreform.org/sign
Simon’s email follows:
BCA v Singh
April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.
Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.
Libel Reform Campaign
This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.
The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!
Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.
What you can do today to pressure politicians
I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign
The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!
You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.
You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to http://www.libelreform.org/sign. Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.
Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.
Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.
Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.
Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets
Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at http://www.libelreform.org & back #libelreform
Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can’t afford to defend our words. Sign up at http://www.libelreform.org & back #libelreform
Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at http://www.libelreform.org & back #libelreform
Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at http://www.libelreform.org & back #libelreform
PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:
(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.
(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).
(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)
(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.
(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.
PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:
The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech – Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.
The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.
The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign.
Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.
Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.
Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.
The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at http://www.libelreform.org/sign
All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.
Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.
Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.