At last Parliament has given the boot to the bully boy tactics commonly used by those who have regularly resorted to the threat of legal action to stop fair criticism. The new defamation bill now just requires Royal Assent, after which the words, “Remove your blog post or I’ll sue the pants off you” won’t work.
There’s some information here, but there will no doubt be a lot more to come in the next few days as the media reports on it.
As a sceptical blogger, I am particularly pleased with this new law. It allows legitimate criticism of outlandish claims made by various members of the woo fraternity, but without the fear of being sued for trivial grievances. And what, exactly, is a trivial grievance? It could be a blogger saying to a paranormal advocate something like, “Where’s your evidence? You’ve been making these claims for years and there’s nothing to show for it.”
A statement like that infuriates the self-proclaimed experts who make a living from writing unsubstantiated cobblers aimed at a credulous readership. When they are called out on it and challenged to provide the evidence that they say proves their claims, they respond with legal threats, not the evidence they say they have. Quite honestly (in my honestly held opinion, as it were) I think they have evidence, alright, but it’s probably the sort of evidence that would be laughed out of a junior school science class.
Then again, maybe their evidence for their paranormal claims is such that when they finally release it they will have the world at their feet: a Nobel Prize for starters, not to mention the worldwide adulation, invitations to lecture at the Royal Institution, etc., etc., …
I’ve been a victim of this kind of intimidation myself, although indirectly, in the sense that comments I made on another blog were taken down because the blogger was threatened with legal action if they stayed up. The comments I made on that blog were not libellous in any way, but the costs of defending a trivial claim can be ruinous even before any case gets anywhere near a court. So I don’t blame that particular blogger in any way; he was a victim of the kind of bullying that is now going to end.
Obviously, there does need to be protection for people against malice; publicly accusing an innocent person of some kind of wrongdoing is itself wrong and there has to be a system in place for suitable redress. The new law still protects people from libel, but the difference now is that libel laws cannot be used as a personal weapon to censor honest criticism.
So far it has been common for some people to proclaim all kinds of codswallop under the banner of freedom of speech, but at the same time stifling the freedom of speech of others by threatening legal action against anyone who criticises them. I suspect there will be a lot of bloggers right now busy dusting off old blog posts for republication – posts that were removed because of legal threats but which can now be waved in the faces of bullies who have had things their own way for too long
Bloggers can now publish on the basis of “Is it true?” rather than “Will they sue?” It’s nice to know that the people who have threatened critics with financial ruin could now be the ones facing hefty legal bills for bringing meritless claims that are going to be thrown back at them.
About time, too.