As a Parliament, we have failed to defend one of our nation's primary virtues-free speech. We have also failed in the duty to protect the weak and vulnerable from the rich and powerful. More often than not, it is the rich and powerful who use the libel laws to intimidate the less wealthy and the less powerful, as I shall demonstrate. Perhaps the best demonstration that English libel law has become a weapon of the rich and powerful is the extent to which they choose to use the English courts over any other option and over the courts of any other country. When Boris Berezovsky sued a Russian TV company, he did so not in Russia, where the deed occurred, but in England. Similarly, Roman Abramovich chose to sue an Italian newspaper not in Rome, but in London.The coalition has promised to reform the libel law to end such abuse. We have to hope they'll do so and remain true to their word. But it's not just in Britain where this kind of reform is needed: even in France, if it hasn't been done yet, there's serious need for reforming their own libel laws, so that monsters like Charles Enderlin cannot stifle people's right to challenge his blood libels.
In 2004, the Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz, launched a libel action against Rachel Ehrenfeld, the American author of ‘Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed-and How to Stop It’. The book claimed that Mahfouz financed al-Qaeda. It was not published here, but it was available online. Mahfouz brought the case not in America or Saudi Arabia, but in Britain, and the court awarded him substantial damages. As a direct result, New York law was changed to prevent British judgments applying in the US and American national law is undergoing the same change.
Those rich men each brought their cases under the English judicial system, rather than in the appropriate forum, because English libel law is complex, clumsy, expensive and draconian. It is 140 times more expensive to defend a libel case in England than in other European nations. As a result, it favours the wealthy man who has the most financial stamina and can afford the most expensive lawyers. Although libel tourism is not the most important weakness in English libel law, it is the starkest symptom of how unfair it can be, compared with every other jurisdiction in the modern world.
And, over the United States, the Republicans would do well to again raise the issue of an amendment that can protect people against frivolous lawsuits, something the Democrats sabotaged during the time the "flying imams" caused problems for the airline they deliberately caused a scene at. Come to think of it, even here, there's need to amend some laws to ensure for example, that Jewish land owners will not be discriminated against, to name but one example.