US law to neuter libel tourism

Render foreign beatdowns unenforceable

The US House of Representatives has passed a law which will render libel rulings from the English courts unenforceable there. The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go to US President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

US politicians, journalism representatives and free speech activists have long condemned libel law in England and Wales for being too severe and for being a restriction on free speech.

Since the advent of near-ubiquitous online publication of articles some people have picked the court with the most advantageous libel laws and chosen to sue there. They argue that the online publication allows them to pursue a case anywhere the piece has been read.

The law in England and Wales is seen as favourable to people seeking to protect their reputations, so English courts have won a reputation as a favourite for libel tourists.

"Libel tourism threatens to undermine free speech in the US because, with the rise of the Internet and foreign courts’ liberal exercise of personal jurisdiction over Americans, foreign defamation law that lacks the constitutionally mandated speech-protective features of US law can be applied to publications that are substantially or entirely distributed in the US," said Congressman Steve Cohen, who helped to write the law. "Our First Amendment rights are among the most fundamental principles laid out in the Constitution. It is vital we ensure that these rights are never undermined by foreign judgments."

The UK government has pledged to reform libel law in a bid to reduce libel tourism and give publishers and journalists better protection against libel suits.

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