Landmark ruling in medical libel case

5 April 2010

The UK science writer Simon Singh, whose dispute with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) highlighted the absurdity of English libel laws when used to defend scientific criticism (see previous news) has won a victory in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The Court of Appeal ruled that his published statements about the BCA and their claims about the efficacy of chiropractic treatments were an honest expression of opinion, as opposed to factual assertions as decided in a previous court ruling (see Nature News). This means that his statements can be defended as fair comment as opposed to libel, and will not require that he produce evidence to support these comments in order to defend the case.
 
The judges noted that the legal case brought by the BCA against Dr Singh "almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choice" (see judgement)
 
Speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Libel Reform, Tracey Brown commented: "We are delighted with the judges' ruling but it does not go far enough…There is a cardiologist currently being sued by a device manufacturer, we have researchers who have been unable to publish their critique of lie detector technology because of threats of libel action. A major science journal is also currently being sued and our academics are being told to pull down blogs. We urgently need a public interest defence so that we can all be sure of our rights as publishers, writers, authors and academics" (see Guardian article).

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