5 August 2010

UK libel laws are unjust

UK libel laws are unjust, against the public interest and internationally criticised - there is urgent need for reform. [Source]

Freedom to criticise and question, in strong terms and without malice, is the cornerstone of argument and debate, whether in scholarly journals, on websites, in newspapers or elsewhere. UK current libel laws inhibit debate and stifle free expression. They discourage writers from tackling important subjects and thereby deny us the right to read about them.

The law is so biased towards claimants and so hostile to writers that London has become known as the libel capital of the world. The rich and powerful bring cases to London on the flimsiest grounds (libel tourism), because they know that 90% of cases are won by claimants. Libel laws intended to protect individual reputation are being exploited to suppress fair comment and criticism.

The cost of a libel trial is often in excess of £1 million and 140 times more expensive than libel cases in mainland Europe; publishers (and individual journalists, authors, academics, performers and blog-writers) cannot risk such extortionate costs, which means that they are forced to back down, withdraw and apologise for material they believe is true, fair and important to the public.

The English PEN/Index on Censorship report has shown that there is an urgent need to amend the law to provide a stronger, wider and more accessible public interest defence. Sense About Science has shown that the threat of libel action leads to self-censorship in scientific and medical writing.

Several people, in the UK and beyond, have taken the initiative to urge politicians to support a bill for major reforms of the English libel laws now, in the interests of fairness, the public interest and free speech.

UK libel laws are so bad that attract the so-called libel tourists, i.e. people who want to sue someone for "libel" but, because of freedom of speech regulations, cannot do so in their own country. They therefore go to the UK, where libel laws are terrible, sue, and have a high chance of winning. The reputation of the UK for lack of freedom of expression is very bad. On the positive side, The US senate passed, on 20/7/2010, legislation to protect US journalists, writers and publishers from libel tourists— litigants who sue Americans in foreign jurisdictions which place a lower emphasis on free speech. [Source]

The legislation was specifically designed to negate the threat of English laws, amid claims that the UK has became an international libel tribunal. One case in particular incensed US politicians, that of New York based academic Rachel Ehrenfeld who was sued in London despite only 23 copies of her book, on the financing of terrorism, being sold in the UK. The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Jeff Sessions has broad cross-party support. If passed, the proposal will prevent US courts from recognising foreign libel rulings that are inconsistent with the First Amendment. During the debate Leahy argued that foreign courts were chilling open debate and “undermining” freedom of speech in the US. In a statement he said:”While we cannot legislate changes to foreign law that are chilling protected speech in our country, we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine American First Amendment or due process rights.” The SPEECH (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) Act will now go before the House of Representatives.

It is a complete shame to have laws passed in other countries (and rightly so) to protect  their citizens from being sued in UK courts. What needs to happen is a complete change of UK libel laws. Apparently, one reason for their existence is because they bring a sizeable income to the UK from litigants who can afford to pay a million pounds in order to get rid of people who freely express their opinion.

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What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant