Thomas Jones · Libel Tourism
Everyone sends out self-congratulatory newsletters these days. Carter-Ruck, the firm of solicitors that 'remains the market leader in defamation and privacy law', calls its newsletter Get Carter-Ruck (geddit?). No prizes for guessing where that quote about being the market leader comes from.
It's in many ways a paradoxical document. Since much of what it celebrates is the successful silencing of the press, some of the news is necessarily oblique:
The Daily Express has published an apology to Michael Winner.
For what? No one can say...
Nadhmi Auchi the businessman and philanthropist, has successfully settled his claims against The Washington Times and Elaph, the London-based online Arabic newspaper... The Washington Times removed the offending article from its website and issued a letter requesting that other websites re-publishing the false allegations should refrain from doing so.
Obviously the allegations are unrepeatable even by Get Carter-Ruck. They wouldn't want to find themselves in the awkward position of having to sue their own newsletter. Though maybe that's in fact the plan, since in some cases they do repeat some of the false allegations, in some detail:
Shakil Akhtar has received a full apology and £100,000 in libel damages from the News of the World. The newspaper falsely claimed that Mr Akhtar was the financier for a militant Islamic cell responsible for channelling funds to banned terrorist organisations to buy weapons for use against British forces in Afghanistan.
Auchi's case against the Washington Times is an example of what's colloquially known as 'libel tourism'. If something's been published in England – which includes appearing on the web so someone in England can see it – then you can sue for defamation in the English courts. And since England's libel laws are more favourable to the claimant than most other countries', the English courts are a popular place for people to come and sue. It's a booming trade for the likes of Carter-Ruck.
The firm made the headlines recently – no mention of this for some reason in the latest issue of Get Carter-Ruck; maybe it was in the autumn edition – when the Guardian famously announced that it was
forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.
The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck.
The story got out anyway, that time, and Carter-Ruck was accused of 'infringing the supremacy of Parliament'.
If you think that 'libel laws intended to protect individual reputation are being exploited to suppress fair comment and criticism', you can sign the Libel Reform Campaign's petition.