Libel law reform

It’s clear from this week’s events, and indeed to everyone with access to either eyes or a braille reader, that English libel law is a disgrace that needs reformed.

As far as I can make out, the only objection to libel law reform is that in countries like the US with a sensible (i.e. unenforceable unless you’re a previously unheard-of member of the public or the libel is obviously malicious) libel system, mad buggers can get away with describing anyone vaguely heard-of as a demented antisemite/Islamophobe/etc.

I’ve yet, however, to hear any reason why this matters.

If you’re a serious commentator, some mad bugger describing you as an antisemite doesn’t make any odds at all. Similarly, if you’re a serious commentator, describing random selections of people as Islamophobes is likely to get you relegated to the “not serious commentator” pile in short order.

(and as someone who’s been maliciously libelled, whilst almost certainly counting as a public figure for US purposes, I can honestly say that the concept of using English libel law against the nutter in question was about the least appealing option in either my or my solicitor’s arsenal, despite the fact that we were both very clear I had a case and would have won).

But let’s assume, against all actual evidence, that libel laws provide some protection to the truth or to Brave Individuals Being Victimised By A Cruel System: in that case, let’s 1) provide legal aid to libel victims and aggressors [*], 2) cap all costs awards to a legal aid payscale. I can’t think of any way, even in the bizarre parallel world where serious people believe that Private Eye is a threat and James Goldsmith is a victim, that this would cause Terrible Injustice, and it means that the occasional poor (in both senses) sod smeared by the tabloids actually has a chance of redress. What’s not to like?

[*] the beauty of this system is that it’s entirely down to the reader to determine who’s whom, and hence doesn’t matter. Obviously I’m Arkell vs Pressdram on this.

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