Thursday, 1 April 2010


News that science writer Simon Singh has had his appeal against a libel action brought against him is welcome if you support free speech. Mr Singh criticised the claims of some chiropractors about the range of problems their treatments can help and he was subsequently sued for his comments by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). Today's Appeal Court ruling found that the comments of Mr Singh were 'opinion' rather than 'facts' so the claim of libel was not correct.

I have used a chiropractor in the past and I am very happy with the treatment I received so I would not seek to damn a whole group of health practitioners. The fault here lies with the BCA and the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who ruled on the original claim against Mr Singh.

Today's ruling is quite simply a defence of free speech and the right to question, criticise and condemn. This is a cornerstone of a free society and the original decision was an assault by an over-mighty legal system against such freedoms. The worry with all such libel cases is that individuals and journalists will be increasingly silenced in the face of threatened actions by organisations with deeper pockets. Mr Singh was lucky to be a high profile case who received a lot of support from a number of groups and people in the science community (apologies to any Private Eye readers for this phrase) but others might not be able to call on such support.

The law must defend citizens, otherwise it is not fit for purpose. It has succeeded today in righting a wrong but a question may be asked about how many other cases of free speech being threatened have not been so successfully resolved.

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