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United Kingdom

The country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly law of defamation will be a tad less so under legislated reforms now taking effect. Under the Defamation Act 2013, complainants will need to show “serious harm,” peer-reviewed scientific publications and material published in the public interest will gain a new defense, a single-publication rule will be introduced, and new rules intended to combat libel tourism will exclude cases with little connection to England or Wales. [BBC]

Authorities in Rugeley, Staffordshire, England, detained sandwich shop owner Neil Phillips for eight hours, searched his computer, fingerprinted him and swabbed him for DNA after a local elected official complained that Phillips had engaged in online jokes and comments on Facebook, including jokes about Nelson Mandela. [Birmingham Mail, The Star] Afterward, Phillips complained that the constabulary had “over-reacted massively”: “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of speech?” Charles Cooke explains at NRO:

Well, the Public Order Act of 1986 happened to freedom of speech – in particular, Section 5, which makes it a crime in England for anyone ”with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress” to

(a) [use] threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) [display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

In other words, Section 5 allows anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists criticizing Muslims….

Is it still legal for Britons to laugh at this Mark Steyn column?

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Organizers at a church in Neath, Wales don’t mind rules requiring the donkey-riding Mary in a childrens’ Nativity play to be wearing a crash helmet, or as the case may be “riding hat.” They say the eight-year-old’s costuming can readily be arranged to conceal the anachronistic headgear during the Christmas procession. No word on whether, as at petting zoos, participants coming in contact with the animal will need to apply hand sanitizer before proceeding. Critics term the rule “‘elf – ‘n’ – safety.” [BBC, Telegraph]

An “international legal fantasy,” as one observer puts it. [New York Times; earlier on Haiti and France; more on reparations]

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  • Golden Age of libel tourism in UK coming to an end? [Media Law Prof]
  • Tactical use of defamation suits not just a US/UK concern [Bangkok Post, Thailand]
  • “So you’ve been threatened with a defamation suit” [Ken at Popehat]
  • Federal judge tosses casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s libel suit against National Jewish Democratic Council [JTA, Las Vegas Review-Journal; earlier on Adelson]
  • “‘Federal Verification Company’ Seeks to Shut Down Online Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Defending rights of anonymous reviewers in Virginia Yelp case [Public Citizen]

Unthinkable here, one presumes. But the United Kingdom has no First Amendment, and a noisy lobby has been demanding press regulation to curb the periodic misconduct of the tabloids, made worse by what is perceived as the irresponsible and, well, unreliable (cf.: Rupert Murdoch) political stands and cultural practices of those papers. [Daily Telegraph and editorial ("unacceptable"), Andrew Gilligan ("Hacked Off is a campaign not just to tame the press, but to claim the country for the authoritarian Left.") and followup]

More: “NO” [The Spectator]

“Prosecutors claim Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio was guilty of insider trading, and that his prosecution had nothing to do with his refusal to allow spying on his customers without the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But to this day, Nacchio insists that his prosecution was retaliation for refusing to break the law on the NSA’s behalf.” [Andrea Peterson, WaPo; earlier here, here]

Also on surveillance: “One NSA analyst was recreationally surveilling women for 5 years, until a girlfriend realized he was wiretapping her.” [Kevin Poulsen, Wired] “To boldly snoop where no snoop has snooped before” [Lowering the Bar on NSA grandiosity] No, it’s not creepy at all for the British government to put up big peeping-eyes posters to remind taxpayers they’re being watched [Telegraph last November]

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Regarding the right to publish illicitly obtained secrets, the venerable Guardian would come off as a nobler martyr had it not been in the front lines cheering a police-led legal war on British tabloids [Brendan O'Neill, Spiked Online; The Spectator]

A spy’s warning

by Walter Olson on July 17, 2013

U.K.: “Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.” [Telegraph]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on July 16, 2013

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Nanny state roundup

by Walter Olson on July 12, 2013

  • “Sneaky public-health messaging appears to be on the upswing across the country” [Baylen Linnekin, NY Post; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • Scotland: “Parents warned they could face court for lighting up at home in front of kids” [The Sun] And Sweden: “Law professor calls for ban on parents drinking” (in presence of kids) [The Local via @FreeRangeKids]
  • Speaking of tobacco: “Former German Chancellor Stays One Step Ahead of European Nannies, Hoards Cigarettes” [Matthew Feeney on Helmut Schmidt]
  • Speaking of alcohol: ObamaCare slush fund bankrolling anti-booze advocacy in Pennsylvania [Mark Hemingway, earlier]
  • To fix the nation’s weight problem, socially discourage processed foods. Right? Wrong [David Freedman, Atlantic]
  • Mark Steyn on federal regulation requiring emergency bunny plan for magicians [NRO, more, earlier]
  • Run for your life! It’s a falling toilet seat! [Free-Range Kids]

Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on July 3, 2013

  • State attorneys general and contingent-fee lawyers: West Virginia high court says OK [WV Record] Similar Nevada challenge [Daniel Fisher]
  • Driver of bus that fatally crushed pedestrian fails to convince court on can’t-bear-to-look-at-evidence theory [David Applegate, Heartland Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly]
  • UK uncovers biggest car crash scam ring, detectives say County Durham motorists were paying up to £100 extra on insurance [BBC, Guardian, Telegraph]
  • “A Litigator Reviews John Grisham’s The Litigators” [Max Kennerly]
  • Quin Hillyer, who’s written extensively on litigation abuse, is putting journalism on hold and running for Congress from Mobile, Ala. [American Spectator]
  • Not clear how man and 5-year-old son drowned in pool — he’d been hired for landscaping — but homeowner being sued [Florence, Ala.; WAFF]
  • “U.S. Legal System Ranked as Most Costly” [Shannon Green, Corp Counsel] “International comparisons of litigation costs: Europe, U.S. and Canada” [US Chamber]

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Growing out of the press-hacking scandal that has stirred so much outrage: “one of the key hackers mentioned in the report has admitted that 80 per cent of his client list was taken up by law firms, wealthy individuals and insurance firms while only 20 per cent of clients were from the media. … the most common industry employing criminal private detectives is understood to be law firms, including some of those involved in high-end matrimonial proceedings and litigators investigating fraud on behalf of private clients.” [Independent]

“Plans to ban the pint glass from pubs throughout the Highlands of Scotland have sparked outrage. The traditional vessel is already outlawed in nightclubs in the Highlands, which are forced to serve all drinks – including champagne, cocktails and the finest malt whiskies – in plastic containers after 9pm because of police fears over potential injury.” The Highland Licensing Board is now proposing to extend the scheme further, against objections from pub owners as well as critics of the Nanny State generally. [Telegraph]

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Life without a First Amendment: “Eleven people across UK arrested for making ‘racist or anti-religious’ comments on Facebook and Twitter about British soldier’s death” [Daily Mail (with notice: "Sorry, we are unable to accept comments for legal reasons"), more, The Lincolnite; Eugene Volokh (quoting British police: "People should stop and think about what they say on social media before making statements as the consequences could be serious")]

On a happier note, with regard to countering objectionable speech, the BBC reports that when members of the nativist English Defence League organized a gathering outside a mosque in the city of York, worshipers brought out tea and cookies and invited them inside for a chat.

Data point 2 about free speech in Britain: 11 lawyers have signed a letter in the Guardian “threatening supermarkets with immediate legal action” unless they remove from sale “lad’s mags,” men’s magazines that are anathema to feminist campaigners. “Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010,” it says. “Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act.” [Guardian; Toby Young, Telegraph; ITV] Young points out that reported incidents of domestic violence have fallen quite sharply since lad’s mags became popular in the 1990s, making nonsense of claims that the publications somehow promote male aggression. For the campaigners, writes Toby Young, “this is simply about preventing men – predominantly working-class men – from buying magazines that they consider vulgar and in poor taste.”

More in comments from Bill Poser: “Here’s another: police in Wales ordered a shop-keeper to remove T-shirts saying ‘Obey our laws, respect our beliefs, or go back to your own country.'”

And from the “It Can’t Happen Here” department: “Justice Department to Hold Seminar Warning Against the Legal ‘Consequences’ of Anti-Muslim Speech.” Let’s hope there’s some reporting error here.

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Traditional refillable open-spouted vessels and dipping bowls will need to give way to “pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labeling in line with EU industrial standards.” [Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph] In perhaps not unrelated news, a new poll finds Euroskepticism strong in the U.K. [Telegraph]:

When voters are asked the exact question Conservatives want to put to the public in the 2017 referendum, “Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the EU?”, 46 per cent opt to come out, a higher figure than in other recent polls, while just 30 per cent want to stay in.

Update: May 23 (proposal dropped).

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You’d think if anyone owned the phrase, it would be Her Majesty’s Government or, failing that, the bookselling couple in the North of England who brought the W.W. II-vintage poster back from obscurity. But one former TV producer has different ideas, and would like to own the rights. [CBS News (autoplays; I've removed the previously embedded video because I couldn't disable autoplay); earlier]

An immigration judge has ruled that the British government cannot deport convicted drug dealer Hesham Ali, who has never been in the country legally, because he has a girlfriend and making him leave would therefore violate his “right to family life” under the Human Rights Act [Telegraph]:

He convinced a judge he had a “family life” which had to be respected because he had a “genuine” relationship with a British woman – despite already having two children by different women with whom he now has no contact.

Ali also mounted an extraordinary claim that his life would be in danger in his native Iraq because he was covered in tattoos, including a half-naked Western woman – a claim which was only dismissed after exhaustive legal examination.

Meanwhile, Ted Frank argues that the case of the Tsarnaev family points up the longstanding problem of dubious or fraudulent asylum claims [Point of Law]

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