The Plastic Hippo

March 17, 2011

Beyond our Ken

Filed under: Law,Media,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 11:08 pm

The legacy left by the current coalition government will be one of desolation and destruction that will blight the fortunes of coming generations. The dogmatic dismantling of all we hold dear ensures that the architects of misery will burn in hell, if hell exists, or be destined to wander the deserts of vast eternity in the political purgatory of class hatred. So far, only one minister has any hope of salvation.

The Right Honourable Kenneth Harry Clarke QC, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, cigar smoker, jazz aficionado, advocate of real ale and serial hush-puppy wearer, has introduced the draft defamation bill. This might not, at first sight, seem terribly significant given the wanton vandalism of the Cameron Clegg axis, but if you are reading this humble blog and feel moved to comment on the mindless drivel you see before you, this legislation is vitally important.

The bill, initially moved by my Lord Lester of Herne Hill, seeks to update antiquated libel and defamation legislation that has become, to all intents and purposes, unworkable. Currently, an accusation of libel or an alleged defamatory statement can be brought without any proof of actual damage to the reputation of the plaintiff and can result in lengthy, complex and very expensive court cases in front of a jury. Calling a media whore a whore, regardless of the facts, can be rather costly. Based on case law rather than statute, trivial cases take years to resolve and the only beneficiaries are the very well-paid defamation lawyers who find this kind of representation more profitable than chasing ambulances.

There is cross-party support for the bill and a commitment to reform appeared in all the major party manifestos, if they can be believed. Unusually, the draft bill currently offered for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny, is written in plain English and not the arcane and impenetrable legal-speak of the self-interested. It seems like a very good bill.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this legislation is that it takes into account the internet and social media for the first time. It seeks to introduce a “single publication rule” which means that if an alleged defamatory statement is re-published on a web site or a blog, or held for eternity in an online archive, the plaintiff cannot launch multiple legal actions against those media platforms. The lawyers are, by now, weeping into their Chablis.

This humble blog has previously commented on this subject and now waits with interest to see the bill enacted into law. However, there are still gaps in the legislation that need to be addressed. According to our glorious Walsall council leader, Mike Bird, Twitter and Facebook are “not everyone’s cup of tea”. The draft defamation bill does not encompass micro-blogs limited to a 140 character observation or whatever people are up to on Facebook. Considered to be more conversational than journalistic, these forums have attracted law enforcement agencies evoking prevention of terrorism law rather than libel legislation.

The “I’m Spartacus” fiasco took absurdity into the realms of Ionesco and Albert Camus and the unwise comments of councillor Gareth Compton in Erdington regarding the stoning of women led to his arrest, suspension from the Conservative party and, presumably, his decision not to contest the next election. Recently, a local councillor in Caerphilly wrongly tweeted that a political rival had been removed from a polling station by the police during the 2009 election. The erroneous tweet attracted a £3,000 fine and estimated legal costs of £50,000. Thought to be the first successful case in Britain where defamation took place on Twitter, that is about £380 per character, colon, zero, open bracket.

The draft bill also makes no mention of how internet sites and social media forums should react to the issuing of super-injunctions. By definition, super-injunctions are secret and are intended to silence reporting by threatening editors and proprietors of print and broadcast media with court action. So covert are these super-injunctions, that even their very existence cannot be referred too. Where does that leave a blogger or twitterer with a juicy piece of news?

It needed parliamentary privilege to expose this last refuge of the scoundrel when a Liberal Democrat MP asked a question in the commons regarding the legal requirement of a businessman who wishes to force the press into not mentioning his profession. At first glance it would seem that the pedantry displayed by this particular piece of slime is laughable and his attempt to sail his pirate ship seems destined to run aground on the Goodwin Sands. But there are deeper under currents beneath the surface of this super-injunction which suggests that hacks might have evidence of fingers in the till and, perhaps, the indiscreet bonking of secretaries. We will, of course, find out sooner or later and this knight of the realm will be left without a shred of reputation to cover his naked greed.

How refreshing then, and in complete contrast to the secrecy of the above avaricious failure, to hear that the Royal Bank of Scotland has, as a condition of Project Merlin, released the payment figures of its top “coded” executives. Following a loss of £1.67billion, £375million was paid to just 323 bankers, an average of £1.2million each. British taxpayers bailed out RBS and are now seeing cuts in just about everything apart from bankers pay. Chancellor Osborne will undoubtedly surface to congratulate the greedy and the inept who caused the financial crisis and praise their “restraint” in remuneration.

George Osborne is an idiot. He also avoids paying his taxes and encourages corporate giants to avoid coughing up what they owe to the exchequer. When in opposition, he flipped his second home in order to pay less tax and claimed £47 from the public purse for two DVD copies of a speech he gave about “value for taxpayers` money”. This slimy, two-faced hypocrite is married to a Yak and is obsessed with Victorian female undergarments.

Under the current Defamation Act, this humble blog could only defend the above statements using “justification” and “fair comment” under common law. The new bill, if successful, will replace these defences with “truth” and “honest opinion”. So, some of the above are true and others are honest opinion. The bit about the Yak is fabrication. His authoress wife is probably rather fragrant.

Kenneth Clarke, for all his obvious failings, seems very keen on the idea of free speech and in introducing the draft bill, he said:
“The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society. In recent years though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate, and investigative journalism.”

As all the other cornerstones of democracy are beginning to tumble, it is good to know that we might still be allowed to complain about it until blogs come under the jurisdiction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Even Nick Clegg has an opinion.
“We cannot continue to tolerate a culture in which scientists, journalists and bloggers are afraid to tackle issues of public importance for fear of being sued.”

Well said. Hey Nick, you are a liar and you betrayed the people who voted for you. So, sue me. All you will get in terms of damages is possession of a Yak. Sir Fred Goodwin is a banker.


  1. This bill is a monstrous outrage and my wife thinks so as well. It will mean that all of the meticulous research that I undertook to find wholesome information about Richard Wattis will be wasted. Scoundrels may suggest that he did not marry for an unsavoury reason. It is far better for a government to pass motions that force layabouts and wastrels to sweep streets each day. Such an action will address the litter problem in Walsall – something my wife steps into every day she does my shopping.

    Comment by Eye Pain — March 18, 2011 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  2. Comment by IAN PAYNE — March 22, 2011 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  3. Eye Pain can read my mind – wow !!!!

    Comment by IAN PAYNE — March 22, 2011 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  4. […] to hatred and overt prejudice will not be tolerated and will be removed. The Plastic Hippo recently wrote a useful article on the Draft Defamation Bill currently going through […]

    Pingback by The YamYam reinvented « The YamYam Walsall — March 26, 2011 @ 9:36 am | Reply

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