Nightmare on Holy Street, Part 2: His Holiness goes to the Court of Appeal. Hardeep Singh reports
In June 2010 I reported for Index on Censorship on my victory in the libel case his Holiness vs Singh in an article titled A nightmare on holy street. But the case continues in the Court of Appeal three years on from publication of the “offending” article.
His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj (or Jeet Singh) who sued me from his Indian residence, has this week renewed his application for an oral hearing in the Court of Appeal after being refused permission in writing by Rt. Hon Lord Chief Justice Laws on the 30 July 2010. In the order, Lord Chief Justice Laws asserts “I consider Eady J was right for the reasons he gave”. On 7 May 2010, after a protracted three-year High Court battle Jeet Singh’s libel claim against me was “‘permanently stayed” by Mr Justice Eady. The ruling suggested secular courts should not adjudicate on issues of religion, doctrine and tradition, illustrating the separation between church and state. To provide a take home message, don’t bring God into court.
Mr Justice Eady referred to the 2003 case, Blake v Associated Newspapers, where the judge dismissed the Right Reverend Jonathan Clive Blake’s claim that the publisher of the Daily Mail had questioned the fitness of a person to carry out the duties of their religious office. The developments in my case highlights how tumultuous defending a libel writ can be. It’s been three agonising years after the publication of the “offending” article. Defending the case has put my life completely on hold. Although the personal stress, financial burden and consternation will continue for at least a few more months, His Holiness v Singh has attracted international media attention. It not only highlights the issue of libel tourism and the secular nature of our courts, but more importantly the urgent need for reform, so powerful foreign nationals don’t abuse Britain’s libel laws to curtail freedom of speech and intimidate critics. Reform of our libel law is long overdue. The appeal by Jeet Singhs’ lawyers Ford and Warren Solicitors will be heard in the court of appeal on the 22 October. It will no doubt be carefully followed by the libel reform lobby, policy makers and freedom of speech campaigners across the world. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all read the headline Victory for Singh one last time? Hardeep Singh is a freelance journalist, broadcaster, and the Press Secretary for the Network of Sikh Organisations, UK He is one of 52,000 signatories at www.libelreform.org