Simon Singh wins 'fair comment' appeal

Science writer Simon Singh this morning won his Court of Appeal battle for the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel action.

Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008.

He suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors make on treating certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

The BCA alleged that Singh, in effect, had accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

In a preliminary ruling at the High Court in May last year, Justice Eady held that Singh’s comments were factual assertions rather than expressions of opinion – which meant he could not use the defence of fair comment.

Today, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley ruled the High Court judge had “erred in his approach” and allowed Singh’s appeal.

Singh described the ruling as “brilliant”, but added: “It is extraordinary this action has cost £200,000 to establish the meaning of a few words.”

The Singh case has become a cause celebre for science journalism and prompted calls for reforms to the defamation law to keep it out of scientific disputes.

After today’s ruling, Tracey Brown, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Libel Reform, said: “We are delighted with the judges’ ruling, but it does not go far enough.

“There is a cardiologist currently being sued by a device manufacturer, we have researchers who have been unable to publish their critique of lie detector technology because of threats of libel action.

“A major science journal is also currently being sued and our academics are being told to pull down blogs.

“We urgently need a public interest defence so that we can all be sure of our rights as publishers, writers, authors and academics.”

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