More good news from what is turning into a good week for freedom of expression.Simon Singh has been given leave to appeal against Mr Justice Eady's draconian interpretation of his critique of chiropractors. As I explained in the Observer,
The BCA went to the libel courts and secured a ruling from Mr Justice Eady that made Singh's desire to test chiropractors' claims next to impossible. Because Singh used the word "bogus", the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but "dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public".The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say. On Eady's logic, a writer who condemns as "bogus" a neo-Nazi's claim that a conspiracy of Jews controls American foreign policy could be sued successfully if lawyers jumped up and said neo-Nazis sincerely believed their conspiracy theories to be true.
The consequences of letting the libel law loose on scientific debate are horrendous. Science proceeds by peer review. A researcher's colleagues must submit his or her ideas to scrutiny without fear of the consequences. If they think they could lose their homes and savings in the libel courts, however, they will back off. For alternative therapists are not the only ones answering their critics with lawyers. NMT, an American health giant, is suing a British doctor for questioning one of its treatments. After the Singh ruling, the Sense About Science lobby group fears the commercial pressure to rush out new treatments will lead companies to quash doubters with writs in London courts and put public health at risk."
Today Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship and Sile Lane of Sense about Science report Simon Singh has been granted leave to appeal in his case against the British Chiropractic Association.
In a scathing rebuttal of Mr Justice Eady's previous judgement in the case, Lord Justice Laws said Eady had risked swinging the balance of rights too far in favour of the right to reputation and against the right to free expression. Mr Justice Laws described Eady's judgement, centred on Singh's use of the word "bogus" in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as "legally erroneous".
Laws also pointed out that Eady's judgement had conflated two issues - the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.
Laws said there was "no question" of the "good faith" of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was "clearly in the public interest".
Speaking after the judgement, Singh told Index on Censorship this was the "best possible result".
"But I try not to get my hopes up," he continued. "We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the court of appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead. Reform of English libel laws, particularly the right to a public interest defence and a fairer costs structure, are vital."
The BCA was not represented at this morning's hearing."
A wise man is never optimistic about freedom of expression in Britain, and as Simon says, we need urget law reform, but maybe we are on our way to becoming a freer country.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook.
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