libel reform 13-02-2010

please do sign this petition. it is part of a campaign to change the dangerous and inequitable libel laws in the uk. this is not about intrusion into the lives of celebrities. nor is it simply about right to free speech. it is also about organisations using the sledgehammer of the law to crush critical voices, thereby undermining proper scientific debate. the campaign is supported by the new scientist, the journal of the royal society of medicine, the society of authors and many others (see here for a full list)

in a notorious recent example, the science writer simon singh is being sued by the british chiropractic association for an article in the guardian in which he wrote:

the british chiropractic association claims that their members can help treat childrewith colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. this organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

this seems incontestible to me. they promote these treatments. there is absolutely no evidence for their efficacy. case closed. you'd assume. but simon singh has already spent two years and £100,000 of his own money defending himself, and he and three researchers risk losing £1 million each.

you can read more following the links above, but the mains points are:

(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 and public health.

(c) our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful come to london to sue writers because english libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (this is why signatories to the petition are encouraged 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.