Libel tourism victims' warning: Defamation Bill will not address foreign claims

Two of the most notable victims of libel tourism in recent years have warned that the long-awaited Defamation Bill will not address this issue.

The Ministry of Justice has written to journalist Hardeep Singh telling him that the Bill should now complete its passage through Parliament following the cross-party deal on Leveson.

It is due for a final reading in the House of Commons tomorrow.

The MoJ said that libel tourism is not being specifically addressed in the Bill, but the law is set to change to mean that in all cases claimants must prove “serious harm”.

Singh faced a four-year libel battle with his Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj over an article he wrote for the Sikh Times.

The case was eventually thrown out in 2011 but not before Singh had run up crippling legal costs defending himself.

He is still owed £120,000 by the ‘holy man’.

Singh said: “Although the serious harm test is a good proposal I don’t think it would have been a significant hurdle in the case I faced or that of Peter Wilmshurst.

“Non-domiciles are able to use our laws to stifle criticism and that is probably not going to change.”

Peter Wilmshurst is a heart specialist who faced a four-year libel fight with US company NMT Medical after he warned that a heart device it manufactured was dangerous.

The case was eventually discontinued in 2011 when NMT went out of business. But if it had gone to trial Wilmshurst believes he would have faced costs of £7m if he lost and would have  been £1m out of pocket even if he had won.

“Costs was the major problem in my case and that lies outside the Bill.

“Even after this Bill we will still have the problem that people are left open to being sued by people that you can’t sue back.”

During his case, Wilmshurst said he was repeatedly libelled by NMT but was advised by his lawyers that UK libel decision costs orders could not be enforced in the US so there was no point in him counter-suing.

Wilmshurst added: “After this Bill it will still be possible to silence people with the threat of high court costs.”

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