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By Index on Censorship / 1 April, 2010
Simon Singh today scored a crucial victory in his libel defence against the British Chiropractic Association.
In a judgment [PDF 73KB] handed down at 9.30 this morning, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that Singh’s contention that the BCA promoted “bogus” treatments was “a statement of opinion, and one backed by reasons”. Singh may now pursue a defence of “fair comment”.
The judgment criticised the BCA, saying its action had created an “unhappy impression” that the case was “an endeavour by the BCA to silence one of its critics”.
The judge added: “if that is where the current law of defamation takes us, we must apply it.”
Addressing the effect of lengthy, costly libel trials on public debate and medicine, the judge commented: “It is now nearly two years since the publication of the offending article. It seems unlikely that anyone would dare repeat the opinions expressed by Dr Singh for fear of a writ. Accordingly this litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”
Speaking outside the court, alongside MPs from all three major parties, Singh stressed that while he was pleased with the ruling, the case for libel reform remained. Singh’s case could still potentially continue for another two years.
The BCA has issued a statement saying it is considering its position in the light of the ruling. Richard Brown, President of the BCA concludes:
We are of course disappointed to lose the appeal, but this is not the end of the road and we are considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial. Our original argument remains that our reputation has been damaged. To reiterate, the BCA brought this claim only to uphold its good name and protect its reputation, honesty and integrity.
Former Minister Denis MacShane MP, who was at the Court of Appeal this morning to support Simon Singh’s successful appeal said :
“This is an important victory but it should not be an excuse to lessen the pressure for a major overhaul of libel law. London remains the libel tourist capital of the world and it is time the oligarchs and pharmaceutical companies stopped hiring London lawyers and finding London judges to attack journals and journalists who may not even be based in London. When parliament comes back after the election all three parties should commit to an immediate reform of libel law to allow swift settlements at reasonable cost and to uphold freedom of expression rather than weaken it as the present libel law system operating in London allows.”
MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham and a former president of the National Union of Journalists.
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