Defamation, United Kingdom / Great Britain

U.K. No Longer Your One-Stop Shopping Spot for Libel/Defamation Issues?

How long do we have to live under the world view of this prude?

Well now this would be interesting. Can you imagine living in a world where the United Kingdom wasn’t the worldwide meeting place for pissed off celebrities with no grounds for defamation/libel lawsuits?

It could happen. According to reports, Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg is sick of England being a “laughing stock” when it comes to its plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

That would be awesome. I’m sick of living in fear that Harvard will sue me in the U.K. for defaming their existence by possessing their degrees…

It’s one thing to look around for the best jurisdiction in which to bring your lawsuit, but the U.K. has become the crack-whore for plaintiffs shopping for a libel quickie. At least one guy over there seems to understand that. From Bloomberg:

The government may rewrite defamation laws that currently allow a non-citizen to sue a foreign media outlet for reputational damage claims in the U.K. That would close the door for people who’ve sometimes used London courts to silence critics. U.S. film director Roman Polanski, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky have won suits filed under the statute.

Labeling the law a “laughing stock,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg vowed to publish a draft bill this spring, targeting libel tourism and the high costs of bringing suit. The law, whose critics say it’s only accessible to the rich, dates back to Victorian times and is plaintiff-friendly, placing the burden of proof on the defendant, contrary to laws in the U.S. and most of continental Europe.

Think about that for a second. “Victorian times.” They’re using libel laws from an aristocratic period.

And you know what, if that’s the way they want it in the U.K., fine. It’s their country. But it’s the forum shopping that kills me. If I wrote some crap about Queen Victoria in 1850, and she wanted to sue me or lock me in a tower or whatever, fine. Her country, viva la revolución!

But if I write some crap about Sarah Palin, today, she shouldn’t be able to run to London and sue me. She can’t even see England from her house. In this digital age, it just doesn’t make sense for offended celebrities to run to the most plaintiff-friendly countries they can find.

Of course, there are a lot of Brits who don’t give a damn about my problems:

Advocates of the current law say the debate is overblown, pointing out that few libel cases make it to trial.

“Unlike in the U.S., we balance the right to reputation with freedom of speech,” said Nigel Tait, a partner at prominent British libel law firm Carter-Ruck, who has represented Elton John and Simon Cowell. “Our laws and procedures are fair all around.”

Fair? How is it “fair” that I’m a little bit afraid to make the obvious joke about how I really think Nigel “Tait” should spell his name? Your laws are old and outdated and have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech around the western world.

So get on with your bad self, Deputy PM Clegg. We all know how you refer to Nigel at parties, you should be allowed to say it out loud.

Britain May End `Archaic’ Libel Tourism in Threat to Sheiks, Billionaires [Bloomberg]

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