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We should reform libel laws in light of Singh victory

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 07 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1910
  1. A C Grayling, professor of philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London
  1. a.grayling{at}

    When three senior Court of Appeal judges came down on Simon Singh’s side in his libel tussle with the British Chiropractic Association, they did so by ruling that the right to state an “honest opinion” is essential to free speech and that Singh was entitled to claim this as a defence to the association’s action against him (BMJ 2010;340:c1895, doi:10.1136/bmj.c1895). And they thereby lent great weight to the now almost universal criticism of English libel law—namely, that it has a deeply chilling effect on legitimate debate and criticism, illustrated by the fact that the association’s suit against Singh silenced discussion. This, the judges said, “might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”

    The judgment, which the association might yet appeal, concerned one crucial aspect of Singh’s case: whether he can rely on a defence of fair comment in saying that there is no evidence that chiropractic treatments have the benefits claimed for them. The association took exception to Singh’s description of the treatments as “bogus,” with the implication that its members were knowingly misleading those who sought their help. In the first round of litigation a High Court judge held that Singh’s …

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