U.K. to abolish anti-press freedom law

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ethiopian Review is one of the victims of the U.K.’s anti-press freedom law that the new prime minister is trying to abolish. (See here).

New York Times Editorial

The British government is, at last, moving to reform the country’s notorious libel law, which has long made London a magnet for frivolous lawsuits. The reform proposal presented to Parliament last week by Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, is far from perfect but represents a reasonable first effort to change a law regarded as so unfair that it has been condemned by the United Nations. Last summer, President Obama signed a bill blocking enforcement of British libel judgments in American courts.

Under British libel law, a defendant is guilty until proved innocent. A plaintiff does not have to show damage to his reputation. Further, under the 1849 Duke of Brunswick rule, each individual newspaper sale — or hit on a Web site — counts as a new publication and thus another libel. The law also treats opinion, however measured, just as it treats tabloid gossip until a defendant convinces a court it should be accepted as fair comment.

As a result, London has become, in effect, a center of libel tourism, and the Royal Courts of Justice favored tribunal for what a House of Commons report called “blatantly inappropriate cases, involving foreigners suing foreigners.”

The new American law — the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act — bars American courts from recognizing defamation judgments by foreign courts if they are inconsistent with First Amendment protections. But it is no way an answer to problems of British libel law itself.

Mr. Clarke introduced the bill with lofty rhetoric. “The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our Constitution,” he said. “It is essential to the health of our democracy that people should be free to debate issues and challenge authority.”

The bill includes a requirement that statements must cause the plaintiff “substantial harm” in order to be considered defamatory. The bill would allow defendants to claim “responsible publication on matters of public interest” as an argument in their favor. It does away with multiple libels and reduces London’s attractiveness as a lawsuit destination by requiring plaintiffs to prove that England or Wales is “clearly the most appropriate place” to sue someone who doesn’t live in Europe.

The proposed barrier against jurisdiction is significant and a welcome change. In most other respects, the bill is not nearly as protective of speech as American law, and the burden remains on the defendant. Still, the bill has the potential to bury London’s deserved reputation as the world’s libel capital. It deserves the measured praise it is drawing.

3 thoughts on “U.K. to abolish anti-press freedom law

  1. Too Bad on

    This sucks! How is Meles supposed to use the Gold stealing, Ethiopian girls prostituting Sheik to try to shut down the only real opposition website, which does not back down from its true beliefs that all men are born free? You mean to tell me the original democratic country is re-considering its non-democratic laws? What’s the world coming to? Next thing you know Meles will consider a REAL election. Great! It sure is a sign of the world coming to an end. So they are right when they said 2012 is the end of the world! Brace your selves. Meles’ cadres and all of you that are appropriately named hodams, this is your time to defend the indefensible. Let’s hear it…

  2. Al-Amoudi’s guns are firing from all directions: law suit here, a 2.5 billion land acuisition there; ESFNA public relation fee just in time for the summer’s big event. More than the law suit, though, the land grab is very serious. By taking over vast lands and people, he is attempting to Islamize the country, influencing it far, above and beyond. Islam came to Ethiopia not the other way around. As hosts of and welcoming people, Ethiopians have in the past said of certain danger:

    በእንግድነት ገብተው
    ባለቤት ነን አሉ::

  3. Wondimu Mekonnen on

    Well, yes, this law that made the UK a laughing stock is going to be done with. I hope all the law suits in the past also should not be enforced now.

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