US laws to thwart libel tourism

An interesting letter in today’s Irish Times from Rachel Ehrenfeld of the American Center for Democracy points to recent developments in US law which attempt to thwart international libel tourism.

It seems the New York Libel Terrorism Protection Act (the Americans are quite fond of dramatic titles for their legislation – though, according to Wikipedia, the title is a misnomer) was a result of such litigation against Ms Ehrenfeld and prevents the enforcement of foreign libel judgements in New York unless the jurisdiciton in which the judgement originates provides the same level of free speech as New York. The ‘victim’ of libel tourism can also petition the New York courts to have the foreign judgement declared unenforceable.

The Free Speech Protection Act, currently a Bill at the early stages before the US Houses of Congress, introduces similar measures on a federal scale.

It would be interesting to know if our recently-enacted Defamation Act 2009 would pass the American test – unfortunately, the point does not arise in the context of Ms Ehrenfeld’s discussion. According to the Times, at least, on the passing of the Act:

The changes will bring defamation into line with the norm of the civil law. Newspapers can make an apology when they know they have got things wrong without admitting liability. Judges can give directions to a jury in assessing damages and parties to the proceedings can make submissions on their scale. All plaintiffs have to file an affidavit to verify the particulars of their defamation claim, thus neutering the common “gagging writ”. These, and other reforms, are important changes in the processing of defamation actions after they arise.

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