Defamation Bill

Memorandum submitted by Hardeep Singh (Sahota) (D 04)

Summary: As a libel-survivor, having defended a case for more than three years, I welcome the reforms proposed by the Government in updating Britain’s outdated defamation laws. I have been both a supporter and an active participant in the Libel Reform Campaign since 2008. An area that has yet to be addressed in the Defamation Bill is the issue of "non-justiciablity"; the submission follows a previous one to the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill in July 2011. [1] It is trite law that certain matters i.e. doctrinal disputes, which would otherwise be litigated within defamation proceedings, fall within a territory the courts will not enter. They are deemed "non-justiciable." This forbidden territory in defamation law urgently needs a statutory footing.

1. Introduction:

1.1 On May the 17th 2010, Mr. Justice Eady permanently stayed my libel case His Holiness v Singh [2] , based on the self-denying ordinance of "non-justiciability."

What is clear is that secular courts will not adjudicate matters of religious dispute.

The most recent case to be dragged through the courts decided on the same principle is Shergill v Purewal [3] [2010]. The presiding judge used the decision by Mr. Justice Eady in my case as a legal authority. There are several other legal authorities here, which look at the same principle in cases involving all five major faith groups.

Since my case, there have been others involving legal threats to writers from New Religious Movements or NRMs [4] .

1.2 A court simply cannot trespass into the Church/State divide, so even if the imputation is alleged to be libelous; if it scrutinizes doctrinal difference or the fitness of someone to hold a ‘religious’ position of authority – the serious harm test does not apply.

1.3 In debates in the House of Commons, particularly during the second reading of the Defamation Bill – the litmus test for reform was highlighted. It was suggested that this should surely be whether cases like mine that of Simon Singh and Peter Wilmshurst, will be seen again. The issue of protecting Scientists and those in the Medical profession has been addressed in the Defamation Bill (clause 6) with an extension to the defense of qualified privilege to peer-reviewed journals. This is a commendable development, however leaves those who write about or discuss religious/political disputes lagging behind in rights to free speech.

2. Proposal:

2.1 I recommended an amendment to the Defamation Bill adding to clause 1: The proposal is to highlight the issue of "non-justiciability" of pure doctrinal disputes, amend clause 1, to reflect that some disputes by nature of their doctrinal constellation will simply not be adjudicated; thus no harm can be established in the first instance. Such an amendment to clause 1, will consequently weed out both vexatious claims, whilst preventing doctrinal disputes from being dragged out unnecessarily. This will encourage early settlement of unmeritorious, "non-justiciable" claims.

June 2012





Prepared 27th June 2012