HH Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Eastern Media Group & Anor  EWHC 1294 (QB) (17 May 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has effectively thrown out a libel action against a journalist who claimed in an article that a Sikh holy man was a “cult leader”. The judge’s reasoning was that the disputed points of religious principle were not questions which a secular court could properly decide. In refusing to rule on such cases, are the courts taking an increasingly anti-religious view, and are they now in breach of the human right to religious freedom?
The decision was reported in mid-May, but Mr Justice Eady’s judgment was made publically available yesterday. It highlights controversial issues of whether religious believes are getting a fair hearing in the English courts, and whether “secular” judges are qualified to decide points of religious principle.
Update 08/06/10: Is there no limit to the damage which restrictive libel laws can do? A Wayne Rooney biography, and possibly England’s football World Cup chances, are the latest victim of threats of libel action, says Afua Hirsch in the Guardian:
I’m not saying that information about Rooney’s background is up there with other public interest revelations that have been caught by libel law – lying politicians or innocent people dying from toxic waste, for example. On the other hand, if the Daily Star is to be believed, the book is fundamental to England’s World Cup performance. The paper claims that the book, which I haven’t read, contains “embarrassing material on the England hero” and “is threatening to derail England’s World Cup dreams.”
The law of libel and defamation sets the limits of freedom of expression. It is therefore unsurprising how many conflicting views there are on the Government’s proposed libel reforms. To keep up with this fast-moving debate, we are introducing a new feature: Libel reform watch.
We posted on Friday that the libel reform debate is hotting up now that the Coalition Government has pledged to reform the law of libel. We are following the debate because of the wide-ranging implications any significant reform will have for the law of freedom of expression, as a number of articles published over the weekend demonstrate.
The recent announcement of the review of libel and privacy law by a high-profile panel has led to a flurry of conjecture, comment and proposals. The new Government has pledged to reform the law of libel, but what shape will the reforms take?
The committee, which was announced last month, is being led by Lord Neuberger, the head of the Court of Appeal, and will be composed of legal and media experts. One notable absence, as Joshua Rozenberg blogs, is Mr Justice Eady, who has been responsible for many of the more controversial “super injunctions”.
The new Coalition Government have pledged to “reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech“. Cases involving libel, defamation and super-injunctions have seen two competing European Convention rights fighting it out; Article 8 (right to privacy) versus Article 10 (freedom of expression).
The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has dropped its libel action against Simon Singh, in light of the stinging rebuke it received from the Court of Appeal earlier this month.
Dr Singh was being sued by the BCA in respect of an article he wrote in The Guardian (now reprinted) in April 2008, in which he said there was not enough evidence to prove that chiropractic treatment is effective against certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.
We posted on April 1 on the preliminary decision. The Court of Appeal judges used their judgment on two preliminary issues (in particular, whether Dr Singh could use the defence of “fair comment”) to mount a robust and somewhat lyrical defence (quoting Milton, amongst other things) of the right to scientific freedom of expression.
Given the unusually strong tone of the Court of Appeal judgment, the BCA will have questioned their chances of success in the final hearing. The BCA say in their statement:
The Court of Appeal, in its recent judgment, has taken a very different view of the article [than Mr Justice Eady in the High Court]. On its interpretation, the article did not make any factual allegation against the BCA at all; it was no more than an expression of ‘honest opinion’ by Simon Singh. While it still considers that the article was defamatory of the BCA, the decision provides Dr Singh with a defence such that the BCA has taken the view that it should withdraw to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side.
A claim for libel in respect of three articles in a news website’s archive has been struck out in the Hight Court by Mrs Justice Sharp. When read in context, the articles were incapable of bearing the alleged defamatory meaning, the publisher had attached Loutchansky notices to them, and it would be a disproportionate interference with the publisher’s rights under ECHR Article 10 to allow the claim to proceed where it had been brought after four years had passed since the publication of the articles.
The Claimant brought proceedings in respect of three archived articles published by the BBC in mid 2004. They related to the decision of Cambridgeshire Constabulary to withdraw an oral job offer made to the Claimant after subsequently investigating the legality of his immigration status. Within weeks of first being published, the articles became accessible only in the archive, via search engines. The action related to the articles in the archive and the related Google snippets.
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