Dominic Grieve: "I'm sure there is a problem"
Padraig Reidy: The shadow justice secretary does not seem to be taking libel reform seriously
27 Nov 09

This morning’s Today programme featured Tracey Brown of Sense About Science (a valued partner organisation in the Libel Reform Campaign), cardiologist and libel tourism victim Peter Wilmshurst, and Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve.

You can listen to it all here (07.37 for Tracey, 08.48 for Wilmshurst and Grieve).

Worryingly, Dominic Grieve doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with English libel laws, besides the expense. While expense is a serious concern, it is by no means the main one, as Grieve claims. He posits that people sue in London because of the potential earnings. But this would seem to miss the point: the earnings are attractive, but it is the favourable prospect of winning that makes it worth bringing a case: it is, currently, not a huge gamble to bring a defamation case.

Addressing the specific case of Peter Wilmshurst, Grieve said it was “remarkable” that someone had “chosen” to sue the cardiologist in England. Sadly, it is not remarkable that NMT has “chosen” to bring a suit against Wilmshurst in London. What is remarkable that NMT can bring the suit here.

On libel tourism, Grieve went on to say that if a foreign-published libel is “widely reproduced” in the UK, then a person should have a right to sue: well, quite. But no one, at least not Index on Censorship, English Pen or Sense About Science, has suggested otherwise. The key word is “widely”, a question addressed in Index and PEN’s report.

With the Lib Dems committed to reform, and Labour’s Jack Straw at least making positive noises, isn’t it time the Conservatives started taking libel seriously?

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.