Bloggers in the dock

ONA logoThey say if you put three lawyers in a room you’ll get three different answers and so it was in a lively debate at a joint ONA/Index on Censorship event titled Bloggers in the Dock in Clerkenwell.

Blogger David Ostler recounted how he had been sued and talked about the strain it imposed on him, the two years he had spent fighting the action, and his fear of personal bankruptcy.

The case was eventually struck out by the High Court but without pro bono legal help from David Green and Robert Dougans the outcome might have been very different.

Sile Lane from Sense About Science told of the pressure that bloggers and small publishers faced when threatened with legal action. The time and costs of getting embroiled in a court battle meant that, more often that not, they backed down, or their internet service providers did.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens – fresh from his European Court press freedom victory – put the cat among the pigeons by suggesting UK libel laws should be scrapped. He believed the good sense of the crowd and voices of reason could be left to do the work.

He cited the Gina Ford v Mumsnet libel case as an example of libel law no longer being fit for purpose: “There was nothing really libellous in there …I felt at that point the libel laws had fallen into disrepute.”

“I’m positing a situation where we do away with libel. Speech, meet speech. Work it out.”

He also dismissed the notion of libel tribunals for fast-track disposal of claims. “It’s not in the interests of lawyers. Lawyers run this for lawyers. It’s an embarrassment to the legal profession”.

Judith Townend has provided a fuller account of the cut and thrust


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