Should we care about British defamation laws?
12:39 PM PST 1/11/2009 by Eriq Gardner
A strong defense of England's plaintiff-friendly defamation laws is hard to come The Economist gives it a go.
The newspaper admits that many non-British authors and news outlets have been sued successfully libel tourists" who exploit the laws. In the UK, plaintiffs need only to prove that material is defamatory, pushing the burden of showing truth or fairness onto the defendant. Unlike in the US, UK plaintiffs don't have to get into the motivation or recklessness of a published material. As a result, thousands have used British courts to litigate defamation claims and even English lawmakers have admitted a little bit of embarrassment of the results.
But are these cases more of a nuisance to plaintiffs than defendants?
The Economist points out that many defendants rarely show up and accept default judgments. Few plaintiffs are able to collect upon damages. Making the whole courtroom drama a bit of a show that rewards nobody except the lawyers who collect what amounts to a libel tourism tax.
Recently, a couple of states here in the U.S. have explored laws that would declare foreign judgments in libel cases as unenforceable. That may sound like a good idea, but it's likely to have no practical legal effect. Perhaps more significant might be a new law being explored in the U.S. Congress called The Free Speech Protection Act, which would allow American-based victims a right to countersue for harassment. (In other words, federalizing many of the anti-SLAPP laws on the books.)
Pretty soon, all civil cases around the world may be nothing more than an expensive way to make a point.
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