Two more American states move to ban 'libel tourism'

New Jersey and Hawaii have become the latest American states to introduce a bill aimed at blocking “libel tourism” judgments.

The two states have started the process of legislating to ban their courts from enforcing libel judgments handed down by courts in foreign countries.

The moves bring the number of states processing libel tourism bills to four, alongside California and Florida. Washington DC is also considering a similar law.

The states of New York and Illinois have already passed legislation banning the enforcement of overseas libel judgments.

The bills in New Jersey and Hawaii would both give each state’s courts the power to refuse to enforce the judgment of a foreign court in a defamation case unless the American court was satisfied that the foreign court gave the same degree of protection to freedom of speech as both the states’ constitutions and the US constitution.

The rash of US legislation follows the case of New York-based academic, researcher and writer Dr Rachel Ehrenfel.

In May 2005 she was ordered to pay a total of £30,000 in damages plus costs after being sued in the high court in London by multi-millionaire Saudi Arabian businessman Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz and his two sons.

They sued over Ehrenfeld’s book, Funding Terrorism, which was only published in the United States.

The high court dealt with the case on the basis that 23 copies were sold into the English jurisdiction via the internet, and because the first chapter was available online.

Ehrenfeld refused to respond to the litigation, and the high court awarded summary judgment to Sheikh bin Mahfouz and his sons.

The New York legislature acted – and made its legislation retrospective – after the state and federal courts held that the state’s citizens could not be protected from the enforcement of judgments by foreign libel courts.

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