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UK Libel Laws: Money Talks; Freedom Walks.
The UK Libel Laws have taken another step into the abyss and signals the end of Free Speech as The Groucho Club have launched a High Court alibel ction for a pre publishing test case for libel against the author of an exposé book about the club.
By: Tony Lattice
In recent years, similar cases have been described as the ‘scourge of journalism’ and have set alarm bells ringing throughout media circles as such cases are an attack on free speech. The current UK libel laws protect the rich and powerful from any form of public scrutiny or investigation. Newspaper editors and writers now have to consider the costs of intimidating libel actions before they run a story. This undermines the whole role of the Press in our society and encourages self-censorship of articles criticising the interests of the wealthy and the powerful.
This was the case when the American writer Rachel Ehrenfeld's book, ‘Funding Evil,’ which alleged that a Saudi Arabian businessman was funding terrorism. The businessman won a default defamation judgment in the UK but a New York Court would not allow the order to be enforced. The case was described as the most important free speech case in 50 years. This is a typical example of how the British Courts are being abused. Murphy says “I cannot fathom why the Groucho Club, favoured haunt of many of my fellow journalists, would commence an action based purely on speculation of what might be written”.
Tyrone D Murphy states that the exposé deals with the management of the club and not with any of the members. Murphy is an award winning documentary and filmmaker, the editor of the newsletter Article 10 and a former electronic surveillance specialist and was responsible for uncovering many illegal bugging operations in the UK. It is understood that the issue of electronic surveillance at the Groucho Club is a central issue in their case. According to Murphy, the Groucho Club originally applied to the courts for an injunction but did not proceed with the original injunction application because he ‘decimated’
The Groucho V Murphy case is a captivating one, not only because the case is about an exposé book not yet completed, but also because the case also seems to be based on thought processes and speculation of what might be written. George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ immediately springs to mind. Fiction aside, this particular type of test case has never been tried before in a UK Court. If this case is successful, the libel laws may well change. One can’t help but wonder if a victory for the Groucho Club in this case will be the topic of conversation at the next monthly meeting of the Society of Editors at the Groucho Club. Murphy who is litigant in person, defending himself says “I have a responsibility to journalists and writers everywhere to protect free speech. Everyone has this inalienable right and I will take this fight all the way, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights”
A recent report by the University of Oxford into the comparative costs of defending such a defamation action across Europe indicated that the costs of libel proceedings in the UK are 140 times higher on average than those found in other European Countries. There appears to be a legal costs frenzy in the UK among large numbers of solicitors and barristers, whose main interest is not justice or freedom of speech, but dragging out legal proceedings for maximum gain. Murphy, who is a member of the National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists, is quoted as saying, “I cannot afford to pay the outlandish legal fees because of the non-availability of Legal Aid for defamation actions but I will not be intimidated, or back off, because this action can only be perceived as an unjust attack on free speech and an attempt to inhibit free expression.”
This right to free speech was echoed by the famous, ‘McLibel’ victory at the European Court of Human Rights in 2005, when the Court defended the public’s right throughout the EU to criticise corporations whose business practices can affect people’s lives. The McLibel two, Steel and Morris, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg claiming that the English libel system seriously violated their freedom of speech. The Court agreed with them, and found that UK libel laws do violate the European Convention on Human Rights Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression)
The Groucho Club now owned by Graphite Capital opened its doors in the mid 80s and there has never been an exposé written on the Club. Perhaps it is now time for such a book. Rumours, accusations and intrigue abound. I am sure readers will be dying to know what Tyrone D Murphy, a former electronic surveillance specialist could possibly know, or what could he have uncovered that may be of any consequence to the Groucho Club or Graphite Capital. What could have spurred the Groucho Club or Graphite Capital into taking such a drastic step that is totally against the fundamental principles of many of its clientele? Will this exposé book, ‘The Groucho Gate Affair’ give us an insight into the inner sanctum of the Groucho Club or perhaps a peek into the corporate world of Graphite Capital and media club management? What chance does the author have as litigant in person against the collective weight of the Groucho Club and the billion pound corporation Graphite Capital because if this case ends up in the European Court of Human Rights legal costs will almost certainly run into millions of pounds.
Tyrone D Murphy is the editor of Article 10, a free speech newsletter and is a lifelong campaigner for free speech. He is a member of the NUJ, Liberty, ARTICLE 19 , Committee to Protect Journalists, World Press Freedom Committee., The European Civil Liberties Network and the Campaign for Freedom of Information to name but a few. He won best international documentary on 2006 for his portrayal of the Hollywood Graffiti Gown, an AIDS awareness project that was funded entirely by Murphy.
Tyrone D Murphy contact: Tel + 44 7779977769 e-mail:
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Page Updated Last on: Aug 03, 2009