Simon Singh attacks “chilling effect of libel” at Union speech
Science writer and ongoing defendant in libel case criticises Britain’s “unique” libel laws
by Roger Clarke
Tuesday 19th January 2010, 21:24 GMT
Simon Singh, an author of popular science novels and defendant in an ongoing libel case, visited the Union last night to speak out against Britain’s libel laws.
The British author and producer, who studied at Emmanuel College, is renowned for his best-selling books and documentaries, which present the most recent mathematical and scientific discoveries in an accessible format to a popular readership.
His latest work on alternative medicines; Trick or Treatment, received rave reviews with The Sunday Times describing it as “fearless, intelligent and ruthlessly rational”.
Yet controversy arose after Singh wrote an article criticising the respectability of chiropractic medicine; a branch of medicine centred around the belief that a variety of diseases and ailments can be cured through the manipulation of the spine.
Released during Chiropractic Awareness Week, the article immediately became the source of a libel case brought against Singh by the British Chiropractic Association.
The case has highlighted the uniqueness of Britain’s libel laws. In his speech at the Union, Singh pointed out that the legal costs of fighting a libel case in this country are a hundred times more expensive than elsewhere in the EU.
He also criticised the burden of proof stance in libel cases held here, complaining that once an accusation has been made the accused is assumed guilty until proven innocent. This, he said, has led to the UK becoming a centre for “libel tourism”.
This activity, styled by some as “libel terrorism”, involves non-UK parties suing other foreign parties in UK courts: legitimate if the libellous information concerned is available in this country.
On February 22nd Simon Singh will be in court again as part of his appeal process. He stated to the Union that his main fear was that the “chilling effect of libel” threatens our basic right to free speech.