Science Writer’s Victory Hailed by UK Libel Reformers

News.2010.singh-hand I'd meant to post this earlier: Daniel Cressey in Nature News:

Scientists and campaigners for the reform of Britain's libel laws were celebrating today after leading science writer Simon Singh won a crucial appeal in a court battle with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).

Emerging triumphantly from the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Singh said that he hoped the strongly worded appeal judgment would also spur reform of British libel laws that, in their current form, may stifle scientific debate. “It's not good news, it's great news,” he said.

The BCA is suing Singh over an article he wrote for The Guardian newspaper in April 2008. Singh was appealing against a May 2009 judgment, which ruled that the article was an assertion of facts, not opinion — and could be interpreted to mean that the BCA knowingly promotes treatments that do not work. A libel case fought on this basis would be nearly impossible to defend, Singh and his lawyers have said.

Today's ruling by the Court of Appeal allows Singh to argue that his words represented an expression of opinion. This means that he can use a “fair comment” defence under British libel law.

Although the BCA may appeal the ruling, and the libel case will continue if both parties decide to fight on, today's judgment is widely seen as a significant victory for Singh. “After two years of fighting an uphill battle we've got the wind behind us,” he said. But, Singh added, wider issues with British libel law remain. It was concerning, he said, that many writers censor their articles; or settle libel actions out of court before they get to a trial, due to the prohibitive costs of fighting court cases.