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As with Calvo-Goller, so with the British Chiropractors…

… what expensive webs we weave when first we prosecute for libel.

From the transcript of Simon Singh’s appeal in response to the British Chiropractic Association’s libel action against him:

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I want to come back to something I raised before lunch which is still troubling me and it still has nothing to do with the outcome of the case, but here we are. Your clients [the BCA] are very steamed up at what they perceive to be a very serious libel. It has been said about them that they have indulged in happily promoting bogus treatments. Your case is – their case is: “That is absolute nonsense. We don’t. That’s not what we are running our professional lives for.”

It is now two years on, jolly nearly, since the matter that caused all this umbrage was published. The opportunity to put it right was not taken. The end of this litigation will not be for another how long – another twelve months?

MS ROGERS QC: Well that depends on a number of factors.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Yes. So all the opportunities to put this right – to make it clear to the public that these allegations are nonsense – simply have not been taken, and yet it matters. I quite understand that it matters to your client that they should not have to put up with defamatory statements. I am just terribly troubled about the entire artificiality of all this and all of the huge expense. Somebody at the end of this litigation – somebody – is going to pay a vast amount of money. It will either be Dr Singh out of his funds or it will be your clients out of the contributions made by the subscriptions paid by their members. I am just baffled.

MS ROGERS QC: If your Lordship thinks that my clients relish spending years and money and time on this litigation, that is not right.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I do not think anybody is relishing this. No, forgive me. I am not for a moment thinking anybody is relishing it – plainly nobody is relishing it. But, at the end of the day, as to this issue about whether there is any reliable evidence [supporting various claims of chiropractic cure] or not as we speak now, it is either there or it is not. If there is reliable evidence, goodness gracious, why isn’t somebody publishing it?

Precisely the argument made to Calvo-Goller by the editors of the journal she believes libeled her. They offered her prominent space in their journal to comment and set things right. Instead, she sued, and is currently a figure of fun among the scholarly communities of the world.

Things have gone yet worse for the BCA. The trial has attracted enormous publicity to the way they advertise, and indeed to the legitimacy of the health claims they make.

From yesterday’s Guardian:

As the British Chiropractic Association’s battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the financial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice “baffled”. What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council.

The council, which is responsible for regulating the profession and has 2,400 chiropractors on its books, informs me that it has had to recruit six new members of staff to deal with a fifteenfold increase in complaints against its members – from 40 a year to 600. While it declined to comment directly on the costs inflicted by the reaction to the BCA’s actions, it is clear that a six-figure sum will be involved for the extra staffing costs alone, to which will have to be added the considerable costs of any misconduct hearings.

Margaret Soltan, March 2, 2010 2:31PM
Posted in: free speech

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2 Responses to “As with Calvo-Goller, so with the British Chiropractors…”

  1. Ahistoricality Says:

    What wonderful news: they should have just let it pass, but now they are going to have to be held to some real standards!

  2. econprof Says:

    Again a confirmation of the old truth that everybody who sued for defamation in the UK regretted it later on. Literary historians know this: Think of Oscar Wilde and Jeffrey Archer…

    But I vaguely remember (decades ago) a lawsuit of MacDonalds against some anti-globalism-activists who distributed anti-MacDonalds-material. It became a nightmare for MacDonald – they were able to document a lot of disgusting practices…

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