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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

BCA throws in the towel

h/t Kylie Sturgess.

The British Chiropractic Association has filed notice of discontinuance to end its libel action against Simon Singh! I don't know what deal, if any, may have been done on costs (or anything else), but this looks like an admission of defeat.

Yay! Here's a victory for scientific reason and for freedom of speech. I'll have more to say as and when more is known.

Edit: Useful posts (and threads) by Jack of Kent over here. Quote: "The appeal case is, in my view, now binding authority on the High Court that adverse but good faith statements regarding evidence must be treated as having the defence of honest opinion."

That sounds right, and it makes the UK law much more manageable for people who wish to engage in robust public debate about matters of contested evidence. There's still a long way to go, though, to give stronger protection to freedom of speech.

Further edit: Go over here for what is currently your best source of information. It now seems clear that no deal has been done on costs, and there'll need to be further negotiations/litigation on how much of Singh's 200,000 pounds of legal fees gets paid by the BCA. Since the BCA took what proved to be an unmeritorious claim, Singh should get full costs. However, note that "full costs" does not actually mean everything he spent. I'm not familiar with the details of the British system, but it's similar to the Australian system, so what I'm about to say will be at least approximately correct. Go to a British lawyer if you want something more precise.

Here, it works roughly like this. Costs would be assessed on a party-party basis, which essentially means that all the items in Singh's legal bill will be assessed not on the basis of what he actually paid but what such items cost, nominally, against a standard schedule of fees used by the courts for assessing costs. Lawyers are free to charge more than this, and they almost always do. Items considered unnecessary or irrelevant to the litigation will be struck out in the assessment, though that probably won't be (much of?) an issue.

I suppose the policy behind this approach to costs is that losing litigants can't be expected to pay monstrous sums merely because the winner chose to use incredibly expensive solicitors and counsel. The system may be defensible in that respect, but the downside is that even winning litigants very seldom get their actual legal costs back.

There's some talk on the site that I linked to above that Singh will still end up about 20,000 pounds out of pocket. From my experience, that actually sounds optimistic, but perhaps his lawyers were very reasonable - compared with market rates - in what they actually charged him. Be that as it may, it's still not great, especially when you factor in how much income he has lost from being tied up on the case, unable to work on other things. Libel law really does need to be reformed so that people who speak their minds are not put through all this lightly.

2 comments:

NewEnglandBob said...

Fans go wild! (or at least smile). Wonderful news for Simon Singh.

A Drunken Man said...

Great to hear. Perhaps now Simon can get back to writing some more of his wonderful books.