Intended for healthcare professionals


Libel law in the UK

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 09 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2759
  1. Harvey Marcovitch, editor in chief
  1. 1Clinical Risk, Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd, London W1G 0AE
  1. h.marcovitch{at}

    Scientific disputes should take place in the pages of journals, not in court

    Clinicians know they face multiple jeopardy—patients may seek compensation for alleged negligent acts and employers may invoke disciplinary procedures, incidentally with many safeguards for doctors working in the UK NHS recently swept away.1 They may be criticised by coroners, face criminal charges including manslaughter,2 and be subject to sanctions by regulatory bodies. Researchers uninvolved in direct patient care may have felt largely immune to such curbs on their activities, but they are increasingly being exposed to the risk of legal action by disgruntled manufacturers or interest groups.

    The United Kingdom has the unenviable reputation of being a haven for those wishing to pursue claims for defamation.3 Peter Wilmshurst, a cardiologist in Shrewsbury, England, is having to defend such an action by NMT Medical, sponsor of the Migraine Intervention with STARflex Technology (MIST) I trial.4 5 Wilmshurst was an investigator in this study into the link between migraine and patent foramen ovale, which used a device to close the shunt. After a dispute about the proportion of subjects …

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