Science writer Simon Singh has today effectively won in the key libel battle that began when he was sued for criticisms of chiropractors in a British newspaper two years ago. Today, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) dropped its case against Singh, effectively conceding defeat.
The outcome will have implications for freedom of speech in the UK, which has some pretty bonkers libel laws and will free journalists (and I suppose bloggers) and scientists to criticise medical claims as “bogus” or unscientific without the risk of having to prove in court that their criticisms are factually correct.
So now thanks to a judgment on the Singh case by the UK Court of Appeal earlier this month, defendants will now only need to prove that criticisms amounted to “honest opinion” or “fair comment”.
Mr Singh was sued for libel by the BCA for saying that in an article in the Guardian titles “Beware the spinal trap” that …
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
Uniquely British libel law is different to most of the rest of the World in as much as the burden of proof is on the person being accused of libel to prove he is innocent and not the person bringing the libel action to prove they are lying. What that meant for Mr Singh is that he would have to scientifically prove each and every statement he made in his article, when all he had said is that he doubted the claims made by the BCA. This all seems a bit mad to me. Surly if the BCA is bringing the libel action they should have to demonstrate how Mr Singh is lying – but apparently not.
Anyway the resent ruling that Mr Singh’s article can be considered “fair comment” effectively ends the BCA action.