Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Encouraging day in court for Simon Singh

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We're hard at work here producing our March issue, but I must take a moment to report that science writer Simon Singh experienced a very encouraging day at the Court of Appeal yesterday, in a pre-trial hearing on the meaning of words in his 2008 Guardian article for which the British Chiropractic Association are suing him for libel.

Before dipping into the positives, it's worth repeating some cautionary words from Singh himself, who last night pointed out that "we are still at a preliminary stage of identifying the meaning of my article. It could easily take another two years before the case is resolved". However, all the accounts from yesterday's hearing suggest the case could finally have taken an encouraging turn. The hearing was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley, which Index on Censorship calls "one of the most high-powered panels of judges ever to preside on a single case", and according to legal blogger Jack of Kent, "the British Chiropractic Association's case received a sustained battering by three of the most senior appeal judges in England, all of whom made favourable reference to the need for scientific debate".

The panel reserved judgement until a later date, but accounts from those present in court suggest that they were sympathetic to Singh's case. Encouraging words came from the Lord Chief Justice, who stated that he was "surprised" that “the opportunities to put this right have not been taken”, for instance the BCA not taking up the offer of a right to reply in the Guardian. According to Index on Censorship, he stated that “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.”

One of the key moments of the day seems to have come when the BCA's barrister was asked "What if Simon Singh had said there was no reliable evidence?" [in the article Singh wrote "not a jot" and replied "We wouldn't be here today." To this, Lord Justice Sedley replied "isn’t the first question as to whether something is evidence that it is reliable?"

So, some good news at last from the frontiers of British libel law. And to further brighten your day, I'd recommend Index editor John Kampfner's Guardian piece on the news that the culture, media and sport select committee's report on Press Standards, Privacy and Libel suggests the political tide may be turning in favour libel reform, with its chair John Whittingdale stating a desire to “to correct the balance which has tipped too far in favour of the plaintiff”.

On the Singh case, I strongly recommend you read Padriag Reidy's piece for Index and Jack of Kent's blog, as both were present in court yesterday. And if you find that you need filling in on the background of the Singh v BCA case, you should read Jack of Kent's latest Bad Law column for The Lawyer magazine, which provides an overview of the case's history.

[Pic: Simon Singh at Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People 2009, photo by Des Willie]


Jack of Kent said...

Good round up. I guess that we will get judgment handed down before Easter.