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By Index on Censorship / 23 February 2010
The Lord Chief Justice expressed surprise today at the BCA’s libel suit against Simon Singh. Padraig Reidy reports
England’s most senior judge today said he was “baffled” by the British Chiropractic Association’s (BCA) defamation suit against science writer Simon Singh.
Presiding at the appeal court in London today in a pre-trial hearing on the meaning of words in a 2008 article by Singh criticising chiropractic treatments, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case.
“The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.
He continued: “At the end of this someone will pay an enormous amount of money, whether it be from Dr Singh’s funds or the funds of BCA subscribers.”
He went on to criticise the BCA’s reluctance to publish evidence to back up claims that chiropractic treatments could treat childhood asthma and other ailments.
“I’m just baffled. If there is reliable evidence, why hasn’t someone published it?”
However, Lord Judge stressed that his comments would not affect the judgment of the case before the Court of Appeal.
The Lord Chief Justice was presiding at a pre-trial appeal on meaning in the case of BCA v Singh. Singh is being sued by the organisation for comments in a 2008 article for the Guardian newspaper in which he criticised chiropractic and claimed the BCA promoted “bogus” treatments, despite there not being “a jot” of evidence of their effectiveness.
Judge is part of a panel which also includes the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, and Lord Justice Sedley — one of the most high-powered panels of judges ever to preside on a single case.
Adrienne Page QC, representing Simon Singh, said it was wrong of the BCA to claim that Singh implied it “knowingly” promoted treatments it knew to be ineffective.
“The least likely explanation [of the article] is that the BCA cynically and dishonestly engaged in peddling remedies it knew were of no value,” Page told the court.
Representing the BCA, Heather Rogers QC said the organisation is a respectable one that takes its reputation seriously.
Rogers argued that the use of the word “bogus” suggested that the BCA knew some of the claims made for chiropractic to be false.
Lord Neuberger asked if it was not the case that Singh had outlined his interpretation of the word “bogus” in the original article, where he described how Professor of Complementary Medicine Edzard Ernst had been unable to find any evidence of the effectiveness of chiropractic in over 70 trials.
Rogers conceded that had Singh written that there was “no reliable evidence”, the defamation suit might never have happened.
But Lord Justice Sedley suggested “isn’t the first question as to whether something is evidence that it is reliable?”
Earlier in the day, dozens of Singh’s supporters had gathered outside the court to back the popular author’s right to free expression.
A date has not been set for delivery of the judges’ ruling.Tags: BCA | libel | Simon Singh