Libel without tears
26 Aug 2008

Today’s apology to Salman Rushdie in the high court could take the chill off future defamation cases. Index on Censorship reports

Salman Rushdie set a new standard for libel actions today, following former police officer Ron Evans’s apology to the author for false allegations made in his book On Her Majesty’s Service. Evans had been a driver for the special branch officers protecting Rushdie in the aftermath of the fatwa against the author by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. He left the police in 2005 after being convicted of nine counts of dishonesty and false accounting. He made an apology to Rushdie on 11 counts of falsehood for the allegations made in his book.

Salman Rushdie did not seek damages and was satisfied with the Court’s declaration of falsity. The case sets a precedent for tackling libel. ‘[Rushdie has] pioneered a new way of reconciling the right to free speech with the right to reputation,’ said Geoffrey Robertson QC, who represented the author. ‘You nail the lie for all time with a court ordered declaration of falsity and you receive your legal costs, but you decline to chill free speech by putting authors and publishers to an expensive trial and making them pay heavy damages.’ Robertson says libel courts have become casinos where minor celebrities can receive more damages for abusive comments than rape victims.

‘I’m gratified by the outcome,’ Rushdie said today. ‘We have found an original method for establishing the facts, rather than going for damages. It may simplify matters in the future.’

Ron Evans’s book has been rewritten and all false allegations concerning Rusdhie have been removed.

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