The US senate last night passed legislation to protect US journalists, writers and publishers from “libel tourists” — litigants who sue Americans in foreign jurisdictions which place a lower emphasis on free speech
The legislation was specifically designed to negate the threat of English laws, amid claims that the UK has became an international libel tribunal. One case in particular incensed US politicians, that of New York based academic Rachel Ehrenfeld who was sued in London despite only 23 copies of her book, on the financing of terrorism, being sold in the UK. The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Jeff Sessions has broad cross-party support. If passed, the proposal will prevent US courts from recognising foreign libel rulings that are inconsistent with the First Amendment. During the debate Leahy argued that foreign courts were chilling open debate and “undermining” freedom of speech in the US. In a statement he said:”While we cannot legislate changes to foreign law that are chilling protected speech in our country, we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine American First Amendment or due process rights.” The SPEECH (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) Act will now go before the House of Representatives.
In the meantime read Through the Looking Glass
Floyd Abrams counsel for some of America’s most celebrated first amendment cases examines how English libel law turns US protection for free speech on its head