Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Simon Singh wins libel case on appeal
April 1, 2010 2:47 AM   Subscribe

Simon Singh, a science writer sued by the British Chiropractic Association for describing their treatments as "bogus" has today won his appeal. Previously
posted by fatfrank (34 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words."

Extraordinary indeed. Maybe after another hundred thousand of these unbalanced libel cases we'll get around to changing the law.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:51 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Following today's ruling, a statement from the BCA (PDF).
posted by fatfrank at 2:59 AM on April 1, 2010


Maybe after another hundred thousand of these unbalanced libel cases we'll get around to changing the law.

Until then this will continue to be the pain in the neck that keeps those quacks in business.
posted by three blind mice at 3:00 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


At the end of the article it said that it cost him 200,000 pounds and 2 years just to get *halfway* through the case? Does this mean there's more that needs to happen?
posted by harriet vane at 3:06 AM on April 1, 2010


Extraordinary indeed. Maybe after another hundred thousand of these unbalanced libel cases we'll get around to changing the law.

I believe there is talk of reviewing it. Not before time.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:20 AM on April 1, 2010


Does this mean there's more that needs to happen?

The BCA say in their statement that they are "considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial".
posted by rory at 3:21 AM on April 1, 2010


Does this mean there's more that needs to happen?

I get the impression that this current ruling simply means that he will be able to claim that his words were an expression of opinion rather than factual assertions when the actual libel trial begins at some point in the future.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:30 AM on April 1, 2010


I get the impression that this current ruling simply means that he will be able to claim that his words were an expression of opinion rather than factual assertions when the actual libel trial begins at some point in the future.

That's not really a great win, then. Well, it's a win against libel laws. It's not a win against quackery.
posted by Jimbob at 3:32 AM on April 1, 2010


Yes - he hasn't won the libel case - he's won the right to defend himself under the principle that what he wrote was opinion and fair comment, rather than to have to prove that members of the BCA were deliberately misleading their customers, for financial gain.

So it gives him a much firmer basis for his legal defence, but he hasn't won the libel case.

That's my understanding, anyway.
posted by DanCall at 3:34 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The BCA say in their statement that they are "considering whether to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and subsequently proceed to trial".

If they withdraw their complaint now, it might look as if the British courts have stated that chiropractic treatment actually is bogus. After all, that's what the BCA claimed that Singh had said. Also in the BCA statement:

"Having reached stalemate and feeling our reputation had been tarnished we sought legal advice which unambiguously indicated that in order to get an appropriate apology and retraction, a writ needed to be served. The same advice was that this was best achieved by directing the action against the author rather than the newspaper. The BCA has followed its legal advice throughout this case."

They forgot two things:

1: sometimes it's better to ignore comments you disagree with, even if you might eventually win in court,
2: lawyers need money.
posted by iviken at 3:36 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The real win against quackery has been the Streisand effect that the BCA's suit brought (as mentioned in the Previously link) -- hundreds of chiropractors have had complaints filed against them for violating their own guidelines about not actually saying that their woo can treat disease.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:37 AM on April 1, 2010


In related news Private Eye reports that the BCA's lawyers plan to bill him for time they've spent talking to bloggers.
posted by edd at 3:41 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


this isn't an April fools thing, right?
The real win against quackery has been the Streisand effect that the BCA's suit brought (as mentioned in the Previously link) -- hundreds of chiropractors have had complaints filed against them for violating their own guidelines about not actually saying that their woo can treat disease.
Well good, they should stop doing that.
posted by delmoi at 3:47 AM on April 1, 2010


That's not really a great win, then.

It functionally hands Singh the victory if the BCA persists.

It's also a very strongly worded ruling. e.g.

The present case is not in this class: the material words, however one represents or paraphrases their meaning, are in our judgment expressions of opinion. The opinion may be mistaken, but to allow the party which has been denounced on the basis of it to compel its author to prove in court what he has asserted by way of argument is to invite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth. Milton, recalling in the Areopagitica his visit to Italy in 1638-9, wrote:

"I have sat among their learned men, for that honour I had, and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom, as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing but bemoan the servile condition into which learning among them was brought; …. that nothing had been there written now these many years but flattery and fustian. There it was that I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old a prisoner of the Inquisition, for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought."

That is a pass to which we ought not to come again.

posted by cgs06 at 4:05 AM on April 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


twitter/Simon Singh: "Still coming to terms with 15 pages of glorious prose (nice reference to Orwellian Ministry of Truth)"
posted by The Mouthchew at 4:24 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The full ruling is great that cgs06 linked to is well worth reading through.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 4:49 AM on April 1, 2010


Can he recover legal fees? I thought Britain had "Loser Pays" laws, but I don't know.
posted by delmoi at 5:18 AM on April 1, 2010


The default is 'loser pays', but the courts have very wide discretion to alter this. However, it's very unlikely that the winner recovers 100% of their costs, so Singh is probably still going to be out of pocket for a considerable amount.
posted by inire at 5:35 AM on April 1, 2010


Singh is probably still going to be out of pocket for a considerable amount.

To say nothing of lost time, opportunity cost, and how the fear factor may intimidate or influence any of his work to come.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:07 AM on April 1, 2010


It is indeed worth reading the whole ruling. Also, note that this is an incredible and substantial victory, not merely for Simon Singh (who well deserved a victory at this stage) but for the British legal system. Notice that the highest legal authority in the United Kingdom, Lord Chief Justice Lord Igor Judge, made it a point to personally step into this case and chair the board that heard it. The ruling reflects his own belief that "the costs of civil litigation are disproportionate and excessive" and that (as per Lord Jackson's recommendations in January) the judiciary has the power to enact significant reform of the libel process without waiting for legislative mandate.

In short, this is pretty awesome. This is what it looks like when the judiciary itself starts to enact reform.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those damn activist judges have invaded England, too! Get them a Tea Party!
posted by oddman at 7:29 AM on April 1, 2010


I hate to be the wet blanket here, but isn't there already an open thread on this?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:39 AM on April 1, 2010


If I said that the BCA's mealymouthed statement, which claims that they were only following their legal advice and had no intention to curb freedom of speech, were despicable, would I now be more assured that this would be considered fair comment under British libel laws? You don't get a free pass for doing the wrong thing just because your lawyers suggested that you do it.

Notice that the highest legal authority in the United Kingdom, Lord Chief Justice Lord Igor Judge, made it a point to personally step into this case and chair the board that heard it.

The highest legal authority is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, chaired by the President of the Supreme Court, and the BCA said it might appeal there. I hope they don't.
posted by grouse at 7:53 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, I finally get it.
It never was, and it is still not our intention, to curb freedom of speech...
APRIL FOOLS!
posted by grouse at 7:56 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Indeed, grouse. The Lord Chief Justice is sort of more of a figurehead, now that I read a bit more, though slightly more powerful that 'figurehead' implies. Still, this is a good thing.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 AM on April 1, 2010


The key is that he is head of the judiciary in England in Wales, not the United Kingdom.
posted by grouse at 8:08 AM on April 1, 2010


Now he should expand the article into a book - think of the publicity.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:50 AM on April 1, 2010


"...their own guidelines about not actually saying that their woo can treat disease."

Is this true? They have guidelines forbidding assertion that what they do works? Is there a link you can point to? Because this is deliciousness I just must have.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2010


...a science writer sued... for describing their treatments as "bogus"

Thank god he was not compelled to issue a retraction describing his adversaries as "totally gnarly."
posted by rokusan at 1:00 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


They have guidelines forbidding assertion that what they do works?

Their guidelines tell them to comply with the rulings of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) which has found in many cases that they can't make claims about treatment that are not backed by reasonable scientific evidence. Prior to the BCA's lawsuit many chiropractors advertised their services for treatment of colic, asthma, bed wetting, ear infections, PMS, etc., none of which are backed by any credible evidence to support their efficacy. After the lawsuit was filed several skeptics launched a letter writing campaign to report all of these violations which resulted in a hurried whitewashing of promotional materials and websites (example). By the GCC's own findings the list of things that can be claimed to be treated is down to a small list comprised of essentially neck and lower back pain.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:19 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


(and in the Previously link there is a link to a delicious urgent panicy mass email urging all chiropractics to just remove everything from their websites but contact info)
posted by Rhomboid at 8:21 PM on April 1, 2010


Thanks, Rhomboid!
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:32 PM on April 2, 2010


And the British Chiropractic Association throws in the towel.
posted by Jimbob at 1:37 AM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks: Simon Singh's historic win is also a triumph for his online allies
posted by homunculus at 11:35 AM on April 18, 2010


« Older After possibly inspiring Nathan Barley with his Sh...  |  Anecdotal evidence shows that ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments