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Thursday, 25 June 2009

NEWS: Simon Singh to fight libel verdict

Science writer says he has a duty to appeal the High Court ruling in the British Chiropractic Association's case against him.

Science writer Simon Singh will appeal the High Court verdict that ruled in favour of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA).

At a press conference at the Science Media Centre, Singh announced that he would go to the Court of Appeal and is prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if the appeal is denied.

"In a way I have a duty to do this because if I can't do it I don't think anybody else can," said Singh. "The court of appeals doesn't like to overturn rulings on meaning, but I'm in the incredibly privileged position that I can defend this. I have a bank account that can support me; I have a wife who's very supportive; I have friends and family and scientists around me who support me."

Singh, the author of several best-selling popular science books such as Fermat's Last Theorem and Big Bang, was sued by the BCA in May for an article published in The Guardian last year. In the article, Singh questioned the BCA's support for members who claimed chiropractic could be used to treat a number of childhood conditions. Singh went to the High Court seeking clarification over the wording of the terms in the article, which formed the basis of the BCA's lawsuit. However, High Court judge Mr Justice Eady ruled that Singh's terminology was a libelous statement and not fair comment.

At a heavily attended support meeting in London on 18 May, Singh said he had several reasons for continuing the fight: he might win; he wants his day in court to talk about what The Guardian article actually meant; and, most importantly, this case is about more than the validity of chiropractic - it is, "about the need to be able to write about issues fairly and reasonably without being intimidated," something that matters for all journalists, and ties into the wider issues concerning British libel law.

According to The Guardian, the courts could take two months to decide whether it will hear an appeal. Singh already faces a bill for legal costs in excess of £100,000.

Sense About Science has launched a campaign to keep English libel laws out of scientific debates, inviting interested parties to sign a petition. The petition has already been signed by James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Sir Martin Rees, Penn and Teller, Stephen Fry, Martin Amis and Steve Jones.

"Everyone agrees that there is something fundamentally wrong with the English libel laws, which have a chilling effect on journalists, whether they write about science or anything else, whether they live in Britain or anywhere else," writes Singh in a statement on the Sense About Science website.

"I am delighted that so many individuals and organisations have come together to launch a campaign with Sense About Science to highlight how the English libel laws clash with the right to discuss science in a frank and fair way. The Keep Libel Laws out of Science Campaign will also raise issues related to my particular libel case, and it will encourage a debate on the reform of the English libel system."

"It is possible that the time is right for major libel reform in England, which will then allow scientists and journalists to write with less fear of being intimidated."

Singh will cover his own legal costs, but encourages anyone pledging financial support to donate to Sense about Science's 'Fighting Fund', set up to sustain what may be a long campaign to reform UK libel laws. To donate to the fund, please visit the website.

Mun-Keat Looi
News Editor, TSR

Also in this issue: David Allen Green (Jack of Kent), solicitor and well-known blogger, gives some advice on how to avoid getting sued.