The cost of libel

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Posted on: 
9 Sep 2010

Britain is notorious for the expense of defending libel claims and for that reason is increasingly attracting libel tourism - the use of British courts by overseas litigants. In 2006 Britain's Mirror Group Newspapers, following a privacy claim against it, took a case to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the high cost of defending such claims in the United Kingdom. This was the first such case to be brought before a human rights court and the MLDI organised a coalition of NGOs (including Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and the Justice Initiative) to intervene in its support. The intervention points out that the cost of defending a case, which can easily exceed £100,000, affects not only large media corporations but has serious implications for the ability of NGOs and small publications to report on matters of public interest. Among the writs which have been received by London-based NGOs are one from a perpetrator of genocide in Rwanda and the son of the Congolese president.

In Januay 2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in this case agreeing with our submission and finding that the high cost of defending libel and privacy cases in the United Kingdom constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression. See here for the judgment.

MLDI's intervention can be downloaded here.