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British libel laws stifle free speech, claims UN

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Richard Alleyne
London Telegraph
Thursday, Aug 14, 2008

The UN’s Committee on Human Rights criticises “libel tourism”, where foreign businessmen and millionaires use the High Court in London to sue foreign publishers under defamation laws.

Its report claimed that UK defamation law had discouraged critical media reporting on public interest matters, damaging the ability of journalists to get their work published.

The committee also criticised the way the British Official Secrets Act 1989 had been used to stop former Crown employees from bringing issues of public interest into the public domain and said that provisions in the Terrorism Act 2006 regarding encouragement of terrorism were vague and could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

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The criticism follows high profile cases involving the Russian businessman Boris Berzovsky who sued Forbes magazine in the High Court even though it only had 134 subscribers in his home country and Roman Polanski, the director who won £1.5million from Vanity Fair after it falsely accused him of seducing a model days after his wife’s murder.

The criticisms are contained in comments on a report submitted by the UK after the committee’s 93rd session in Geneva in July. UN members states have to submit reports on human rights in their jurisdictions every three years.

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This article was posted: Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 1:01 pm

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