Posted on 28-04-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The New York Times is the latest paper to point out the free speech crushing scope of English libel law.  The balance between the right of individuals to be let alone and the freedom of the press to do its job is inherently fraught with tension.  American law has reduced the privacy expectations of celebrities and generally prevents defamation and libel actions for expressing opinions (as opposed to the statement of fact).  The freedom to express opinions in England is far weaker and worse the default rule to inflict legal fees on the loser allows larger corporations to crush individuals (in contrast American law does not require a payment of legal fees unless expressly mandated by statute or contractual provisions).

The chilling implications on free speech are obvious (and this is in addition to the recent trend in England and Europe to introduce blasphemy prosecutions).  South Park mocked the libel tourism generated by English libel law a few years ago in its episode “Trapped in the Closet”.  For full episode click here.  Clip below:

In response Congress unanimously passed the SPEECH Act making foreign libel judgments that do not comply with the First Amendment unenforceable in the United States.  California, New York, Illinois and Florida have also enacted such statutes.  While American residents can breathe easier, other less fortunate mortals will have to hope they do not offend deep pocketed plaintiffs who can sue in England.  One wonders what will be the tipping point for the country that first gave individuals the freedom of habeus corpus to clean up this assault on free speech.  Unfortunately with the paparazzi out in full force for the royal wedding, it may take some time.

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