An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times on Donald Trump’s fancy for stricter libel laws. It was published under the headline ‘Trump Wants British Libel Laws. America Does Not.’
While American lawmakers once sought to protect their citizens from the clutches of British libel law, Mr. Trump now wants British-style laws in the United States.
After a long campaign by free-speech organizations, the British libel law was finally amended five years ago. The 2013 Defamation Act introduced a new defense of ‘honest opinion’. It insisted that a libel claimant had to show that he or she had suffered ‘serious harm’ and required all claimants to demonstrate that Britain was the most appropriate place in which to bring the claim.
It was an improvement on the previous law, but still hugely restrictive. The defendant, for instance, if using a defense of ‘truth’, is still required to prove that his or her statement was true.
Shortly after the Defamation Act became law, Cambridge University Press declined to publish ‘Putin’s Kleptocracy’, a book by the American academic Karen Dawisha. The publisher wrote in a letter to the author that while there was ‘no reason to doubt the veracity of what you say’, Mr. Putin and others ‘would be motivated to sue and could afford to do so.’ And even if the publisher were ‘successful in defending such a lawsuit, the disruption and expense would be more than we could afford’.
This is the sort of law Mr. Trump would like to impose on the United States.
Read the full article in the INYT.
Although English libel law has been amended making it tougher for plaintiffs, Northern Ireland law remains plaintiff – friendly.