In a world where having a bad reputation is now considered an asset (and a business plan), and suing simply means the supposedly toxic “libel” will be repeated constantly in newspapers, on blogs (and perhaps eventually, in law books), libel laws are an archaic anachronism.
As the Free Speech Is Not For Sale report says, ‘The English approach to libel suggests that the reputation of the claimant is more important than the free speech of the defendant… It is also an anomaly in English law, where defendants are usually presumed innocent until proven guilty.’
The report rightly points out that ‘From its origins in the eleventh century to today’s million-pound court cases, libel law has been used to protect the rich and powerful from criticism and has come to be associated with money rather than justice’. (…)
The focus on libel tourism as the main problem with English libel gives the impression that nasty foreigners are making a mockery of our laws, when in fact it is the laws themselves that are a disgrace.
Draconian, illiberal and weighted in favour of sacred reputations over free speech: no wonder these backward laws attract foreign oligarchs and other wealthy people with little regard for democratic debate. (…)
Yet just because libel cases became more affordable – which essentially means that more people can use them in order to clamp down speech that they don’t like – that doesn’t mean they became any more just or democratic.
An open search for the truth, rigorous reporting, free expressions of opinion: these things, which should be the preserve of everyone and not only we journalists or scientists and academics, cannot exist side by side with the English libel laws.