Composer in failed libel case goes bankrupt

Top composer, Keith Burstein was today declared bankrupt at London’s High Court in respect of £67,000 legal costs run up by Associated Newspapers in defending a test case libel action he brought against the London Evening Standard over a review of one of his operas.

Burstein, who appeared before Chief Registrar Stephen Baister in person today to challenge the bankruptcy moves brought by Associated had argued that he was taking the case, in which a judge had had granted summary judgment – judgment without the need for a full trial – against him, to the European Court.

However, the registrar told him that, while he was entitled to take the case to Europe he had to ‘pay as you go.”

The judge said that there was a court order against him that he should pay the £67,000 and that it should be complied with.

When told by Burstein that he could not pay the judge told him : ‘Then you go bankrupt.”

He said that balancing the rights of Associated against the speculative nature of what Burstein was hoping to do he considered it right to grant Associated the bankruptcy order they sought.

Afterwards Burstein, who is currently working on a new symphony for the South Bank Symphonia and on a new opera with Booker prize winner, Ben Okri, confirmed that he did not have the money to meet the legal costs bill.

He said that among other things he was raising the question of freedom of expression.

The libel action had focussed on Burstein’s opera, Manifest Destiny which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2005.

Burstein had claimed that the Standard review gave the impression that he sympathised with terrorist causes and applauded the action of suicide bombers.

The High Court initially ruled that the case was one which should go before a jury but that decision was later over-turned by the Appeal Court which held that the case should be struck out.

The Appeal Court decision was regarded as a landmark media ruling in respect of the rights of journalists to write reviews.

In the Appeal Court decision Lord Justice Waller said that in assessing whether a reviewer’s comments were fair did ‘not require the court to ask whether it was a reasonable opinion or one which a reasonable person could hold. It may be an exaggerated opinion or a prejudiced one, so long as it can be honestly held.”

The judge had seen the opera himself and had added : ‘It is plainly anti-American… it deals with matters upon which strong opinions could be legitimately held.”

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