Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A ludicrous example for why we need libel reform

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As the campaign for reform of English libel law continues to gather pace, this story on the Telegraph website provides a nice illustration of why change has become so necessary. In what would surely represent the most ludicrous incidence of libel tourism to date, reports in the Danish press suggest that Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani plans to come to London to pursue his libel case against the 11 Danish newspapers that published the the Muhammad cartoons back in 2006. Given that Muhammad lived and died in the 7th century, you could at this juncture legitimally ask who could possibly have been libelled by the cartoons. Well, in Yamani's view that would be more than 90,000 supposed living descendants of Muhammad. And if you're wondering why he thinks this would be a matter for our courts, it's because the cartoons were published by the papers on their websites, and so were accessible in this country.

Yamani had initially hoped to pursue the case in the Danish courts, but they ruled it was not actionable. It's worth pointing out that there is no indication at this stage that he will be able to do so in London, but the Danish justice minister appears to be taking the prospect seriously, having complained to the European Commission.

As Padraig Reidy points out on the Index on Censorship blog, it seems somewhat unlikely that we will actually see this case pursued in the English courts, but the fact that it is even being talked about is surely a sign that things need to change.

6 comments:

Adrienne said...

Christopher Hitchens had an article published in the Canadian newspaper The National Post about how he was threatened by the same lawyer. the lawyer claims to be representing direct descendants of their prophet.

Adrienne said...

Euh, I was mistaken.

The Heresiarch said...

It's an ancient rule of English law that you can't libel the dead. Descendants have no right in law to feel aggrieved on their dead ancestor's behalf. This one isn't going anywhere.

I suspect that bonkers claims like this (and, at a lesser level, the one against Henrik Thomsen) are being brought partly because the Libel Reform Campaign has had the side-effect of convincing foreign claimants that the English courts are even friendlier than they actually are.

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