Some of you may have seen the “Support Simon Singh” banner on my blog.
So, what’s the issue?
Simon is a highly respected author and journalist in the UK, who has produced some of the best science books in the last decade: Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Code Book, Big Bang etc. Well, it so happens that Simon wrote an article in The Guardian that was very critical of the British Chiropractic Association. The BCA, a group of out-and-out quacks, decided to sue him personally. It so happens that the British libel laws are framed in favour of the accuser, so Singh has found himself having to defend his article in the courts. A recent preliminary hearing ruled against him, and thus a battle royal has commenced within the UK and around the world to get Britain to revise its libel laws.
The issue is this. In Britain, if you accuse someone of libel, it is up to them to prove that they are innocent. The burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser. This is a complete perversion of natural justice and in other times it would have gone by another name: a witch hunt. In almost every other country, the accuser must prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were libeled.
This is a core freedom of speech issue. Singh was using the public media to highlight an issue of intense public interest, and instead of presenting the alternative case, the BCA sent in the lawyers. They were too chickenshit to debate the issue in public.
Irish legislators should take note! Ireland’s libel laws are just as bad as Britain’s. Actually, they are even worse. At least Britain isn’t trying to fine people 100,000 euros for blasphemy.
(For more information on this case, click on the banner image).
Update: For a hilarious retelling of this tale in Monty Pythonese, check out Crispian Jago’s blog.