Britain is notorious for its plaintiff-friendly libel laws which burden defendants (authors and publishers) with proving their statements true. Contrasted with US law, where plaintiffs must prove the statements false, negligent and sometimes malicious, Britain’s lax free speech protections have for a long time been used to stifle the speech of academics, reporters and pretty much anyone critical of a wealthy person who can afford to hire a good attorney.
Britain’s libel laws have been so lax, in fact, that our courts have continuously faced a slew of “libel tourism” (where plaintiffs sued a publisher in Britain and then sought to enforce the judgment in US court) until the US Speech Act of 2010 put a stop to it. It seems that the recent US law has embarrassed our friends across the pond into making some changes:
In a speech on civil liberties, [Deputy Prime Minister] Clegg said the existing laws, which place the burden of proof on defendants, have a chilling effect on journalism and scientific debate…
Clegg said the system has become “a farce — and an international embarrassment.”
He said a new draft defamation law would be produced in the next few months. It is expected to introduce a new defense of speaking in the public interest and clarify the existing libel defenses to stop claimants suing “on what are essentially trivial grounds.”
Note: One of Britain’s top libel tourists, Khalid bin Mahfouz, is partially responsible responsible for the US Speech Act of 2010, which was enacted, in part, as a response to Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, 489 F.3d 542, 545, 550-51. 5. (2d Cir. 2007), where author Rachel Ehrenfeld sought to preempt Mahfouz from enforcing an English court judgment against her in New York. Ehrenfeld failed to achieve declaratory judgment against the foreign ruling because the court held it lacked jurisdiction over the foreign actions. As reported:
Mahfouz has sued or threatened to sue more than 30 publishers and authors in British courts, including several Americans, whose written works have linked him to terrorist entities….
When Mahfouz threatened Cambridge Press with a lawsuit for publishing Alms for Jihad by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, the publisher immediately capitulated, offered a public apology to Mahfouz, pulped the unsold copies of the book, and took it out of print.
Now that the US has effectively told Britain that the tourism must stop, the European nation is reevaluating its own role in recent censorship.
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