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WHY LIBEL TOURISM IS A BIG WORRY

MAX COLE<br /><strong>MEDIA LAWYER,&nbsp; MISHCON DE REYA SOLICITORS</strong><br /><br />
<div>THE practice of libel shopping has been coming under scrutiny recently. Libel tourism is a type of forum shopping, the practice of finding the foreign jurisdiction which is most friendly to the claim, and the courts in this country are an appealing destination if you are a foreigner with a libel claim.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;</div>
<div>There are two main reasons. First, the English courts will rule on publications which have been read by only a tiny number of people here. Second, the heavy burden in a libel claim rests with the publisher who has to prove that the allegations are true or in the public interest.<br />&nbsp;</div>
<div>Recently, a Ukrainian businessman used the British courts to sue a Ukrainian language website based in the Ukraine on the basis that the site could be viewed here. &nbsp;An Icelandic bank sued a Danish newspaper over stories critical of the advice it gave to clients, only for the bank to collapse six months later. Most notoriously, Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York journalist, was sued here by a Saudi national over her book, Funding Evil, which was only bought by a handful of people here over the internet.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;</div>
<div>But these cases are unusual. What's more, a judgement given by the courts here may be of no practical use. In none of the above cases did the defendant defend the claim. So the claimant gets a judgement, but many countries will not enforce a foreign judgement where there was no defence. The US courts commonly refuse to recognise an English libel judgement at all.<br />&nbsp;</div>
<div>So is the fuss over this issue just a storm in a teacup? Not at all. In principle there should be no objections to forum shopping, but there are other things at stake. Libel tourism is not a massive problem, but we should not be complacent about it. In particular, we should be concerned about cases brought here that have no real connection with this country. We should be cautious that the English courts do not become a convenient place for people come and take advantage of our friendly libel laws to clean up their reputations.&nbsp;</div>