The title is short, but its lengthy sub-title is frightening. A new book by famed British media lawyer Geoffrey Robertson shows how defamation and privacy have been weaponised. The book is Lawfare: How Russians, the rich and the government try to prevent free speech and how to stop them.
Robertson, a King’s Counsel and head of Europe’s largest civil rights legal practice, has played a leading role in some of the most celebrated British and European media legal battles of the past four decades. He is co-author of the authoritative book Media Law.
His latest book, which I have just read, is an excoriating indictment of defamation and privacy laws and torts. He writes of the English legal system but many of the laws are reflected by those in New Zealand and the torts form part of the precedents on which our own common law legal system relies.
Free speech has been described as a “quintessentially UK right”, bound to the country’s constitutional foundations (and, by extension, to New Zealand’s legal traditions). Robertson says this is “nonsense”. The Magna Carta was silent on the matter and sixty years later the first law was passed to protect the reputations of ‘great men of the realm’. He then sets out to show how existing libel and privacy ‘rights’ are not only unfit for purpose but have been exploited to the point where they create the antithesis of free speech.
Lawfare – which takes its name from the practice of using legal systems to damage and delegitimise an opponent or deter an individual’s use of their legal rights – describes how English law is being used as a weapon against reporters and news organisations on a scale that seriously threatens investigative journalism. Continue reading “Libel capital of the world: A town called Sue”