Libel reform well underway in England

Fantastic news! England is finally starting to fix its awful libel laws, and it’s the best news I’ve heard in years. Sometimes the world actually gets saner. I have had personal experience with some legal bullying, and so this dry legal news feels quite juicy and personal to me.

What’s the difference between legitimate criticism and libel? It doesn’t matter — it costs critics too much to make their case in court, so all it takes to shut most critics up is an inexpensive accusation. Legal bullying goes on all the time. Many writers have been silenced and cowed by the threat of an unjust lawsuit they begin to afford to defend themselves against. Many assume they are safe because their cause is just and they could win in court, but it’s not until they face an actual libel lawsuit that they begin to realize that winning means spending triple your retirement savings on a legal fees. Being “right” can start to feel pretty hollow when you can’t remotely afford to prove it.

This problem is everywhere to some degree, but English law favours bullies to an absurd degree, and the costs of defense are astronomical — many times what it costs anywhere else. This gave rise to the bizarre practice of “libel tourism”: suing anyone from anywhere in England.

Science writer Simon Singh started the push for reform after he was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for criticizing their members. Years later, it looks like English libel law is actually going to get fixed. Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship: “Finally, the government is to stop libel tourism so wealthy foreign claimants can no longer use our High Court to silence their critics abroad.” It’s not over yet, but it’s looking really promising.

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