... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, December 13, 2010

144: Libel reform and magic

I want to write something about the UK libel law, and the need for reform.  To rage and fury about the libel tourism that brings foreigners to Britain to sue other foreigners about libels occurring in foreign lands (coming over here, stealing our verdicts).  To spit venom in a fit of hair pulling about the stifling of free speech, political discourse and scientific criticism caused by the unfair balance of burden of proof.  To rise up in support of Simon Singh, the Libel Reform campaign, and other protestors and defendants.  Unfortunately I don’t know what I am talking about, and run the risk of making a fool out of myself if I stray too far into territory I don’t understand.  I have no legal knowledge and my scientific understand has only recently passed beyond realising that shampoo adverts are not real science.

Basically here is what is happening as I understand it.  In the UK the libel laws are poorly balanced so that the individual accused of libel has the burden of proving their innocence, as opposed to the burden being on the accuser to prove they have been libelled.  As a result of this our courts are being used by non-British residents to sue non-British residents over alleged libels which haven’t taken place in Britain.  This has got to be such a problem that many courts in the USA are refusing to adhere to any libel decisions made in British courts.  In this respect our legal system is a laughable, pathetic farce.

A major problem with this is that free scientific debate is taking a hit.  A scientist criticising research done by a major corporation risks having his life destroyed by a libel case he cannot afford to defend.  Scientific debate should never enter the courts.  If a claim turns out to be true, time and evidence will tell.  If it turns out to be false, the same applies.  Scientific peers, evidence, blind controlled trials, and practical application are the judge and jury; not legal ‘experts’.

And that has exhausted all I can say on the subject.  No insight, advice or conclusion.  Just some poorly worded sentences that I haven’t really had time to consider the meaning of.  Have I got the full story?  Clearly not.  Will I ever? Doubtful.  Am I up-to-date with all that is happening?  I haven’t got a clue.  Will I ever need to learn about UK libel law?  Hopefully not.  Will I ever random question random question?  Short answer.

A couple of times over the last month or two I've tried reading the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchet.  I’ve never read any of his books before, turned off as I am by popular stuff.  However I thought it was about time I learnt what it was all about.  If I want to be a popular and well paid writer it’s perhaps a good idea to see one in action.  Plus I’ve seen him interviewed on TV a few times about Alzheimer’s and secularism and the right to Dignity in Dying.  He seems like a funny and thoughtful bloke.  However it has taken me a few attempts and a few failed starts to get going with the book.  I’ve been put off by the odd poorly written sentence, but lured in by the occasional fantastic anti-clich√© phrasing.  Generally I’m getting into it.... I’m going to stop writing, and do some reading.

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