Libel tourism may become our newest cottage industry

Following UK reforms, Dublin may replace London as the defamation destination of choice

US boxing promoter Don King: sued a New York lawyer who had labelled him a bigot and an anti-Semite on two US-based websites. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongart/Getty Images

US boxing promoter Don King: sued a New York lawyer who had labelled him a bigot and an anti-Semite on two US-based websites. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongart/Getty Images

Until recently London was hailed as the “libel capital of the common law world”. It was the jurisdiction of choice for defamation victims from the US and elsewhere seeking to sue in a legal forum that was considered plaintiff-friendly. By suing in the British courts the plaintiffs could avail of the UK’s notoriously strict defamation laws.

By contrast, American defamation victims have traditionally been reluctant to file suit in their homeland due to the difficulty in succeeding there. American defamation law has been developed in conformity with the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects free speech. Accordingly US law prioritises the exercise of free speech over a plaintiff’s reputational rights – particularly when dealing with public figures. Defamation plaintiffs therefore face an uphill battle to succeed before US courts. By way of response, wealthy American litigants in particular, but also others, have taken a now well-worn path to file suit in more plaintiff-friendly regimes such as the UK.

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