Lifting England’s Libel Chill

Wall Street Journal

Tourists will always flock to London to shop and see Big Ben. But they’re less likely to keep coming to settle legal scores after two High Court rulings Monday set clear limits against libel tourism in England and Wales. Along with new legislation from Parliament, the rulings might finally lift the chill on free speech and the free press under England’s plaintiff-friendly defamation laws.

The dispute at the center of Karpov v. Browder began with Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s prison death in Moscow in 2009. Magnitsky had been investigating a multimillion-dollar tax fraud by Russian officials against his client, Hermitage Capital. Pavel Karpov, a retired Moscow policeman, claimed that Hermitage CEO William Browder defamed him in a 2011 BBC interview, a 2012 article in Foreign Policy magazine, and in online videos about Magnitsky’s case.

Russian courts dismissed Mr. Karpov’s civil and criminal suits, so he took his case to London. Mr. Browder lives in Britain and is a U.K. citizen, but he argued before the High Court that Mr. Karpov has no reputation in England and Wales for Mr. Browder to have besmirched. Mr. Karpov rebutted that he has former schoolmates and an ex-girlfriend who live in England, and that he had previously traveled there “on five or so occasions.”

Justice Peregrine Simon threw the case out. Mr. Karpov’s “connection with this country is exiguous,” Justice Simon concluded, “and, although he can point to the [videos’] continuing publication in this country, there is ‘a degree of artificiality’ about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country.”

Mr. Karpov’s real intent—as he admitted in his libel claim—is to fight the sanctions against him imposed by America’s Magnitsky Act, for which Mr. Browder campaigned vigorously. The 2012 law prevents Mr. Karpov from entering and making financial transactions in the U.S. Justice Simon declared that the English justice system was hardly an appropriate forum to pursue that fight, especially considering that Russian courts had already rejected Mr. Karpov’s complaints.

The second libel ruling involved a complaint by a Geneva-based Serbian businessman against a Croatia-based Montenegrin businessman. In 2010, five Balkan newspapers and blogs published quotations from Ratko Knezevic alleging that Stanko Subotic is a criminal mastermind. Justice James Dingemans ruled that Mr. Subotic has no substantial reputation in England to defend, and he threw out the case.

Both rulings come ahead of the entry into force, later this year, of Britain’s 2013 Defamation Act, which establishes a “serious harm” threshold for libel suits. If the plaintiff is a for-profit company, then only “serious financial loss” qualifies. The law also extends qualified privilege to statements of neutral reporting and honest opinion, as well as those made in the public interest. This standard entered case law with the House of Lords’ landmark 2006 ruling in a suit against this newspaper (Jameel v. The Wall Street Journal Europe).

The Defamation Act’s “single publication rule” also prevents multiple libel cases against a single public statement: An online news article, for instance, can’t be the basis for two suits if it gets retweeted. The law limits English courts’ jurisdiction in libel cases involving non-EU defendants, though non-European plaintiffs will still have wider berth to sue.

All of this tips the legal balance toward free speech and away from an amorphous “right to reputation,” and will make it harder for celebrities, oligarchs and brigands to enlist the English courts in future extortion campaigns. Let the tourists come for the Court of St. James’s, rather than for spurious victories at the Royal Courts of Justice. быстрые займы онлайн займы на карту срочно www.zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/how-to-get-fast-payday-loan-online.php срочный займ

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