A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­ital of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “offshore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ical cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, other UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-regulation makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of another luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tourism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tual prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” legal firm Col­las Crill.  Accord­ing to his firm’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Committee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­astic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunction” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­ginal owner’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect legal ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new global tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­cratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong direction.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Norman-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­istic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.… 

Senior UK psychiatrist struck off for abusive relationship

Ex-Dr Steven Lomax was last month sum­mar­ily struck off from the UK register of doc­tors by the Gen­eral Med­ical Coun­cil in London.

In this excep­tional hear­ing, the GMC ruled that the former senior psy­chi­at­rist, who used to work as the Dir­ector of the Castel Hos­pital in Guernsey:

  • had an inap­pro­pri­ate emo­tional and sexual rela­tion­ship with his patient, Michele Mauger;
  • had appar­ently des­troyed her med­ical records;
  • had brought the med­ical pro­fes­sion into disrepute.

Michele_and_Lomax

How do I know all this?  The vic­tim of this egre­gious abuse, Michele Mauger, is my mother.

The GMC made an excep­tion to hear this case in the light of the sever­ity of the abuse and the over­whelm­ing prima facie evid­ence of  Lomax’s guilt.  Cases older than 5 years are usu­ally not invest­ig­ated.  Michele’s abuse began over 23 years ago.

In a resound­ing con­dem­na­tion, the GMC stated that he had “blatantly trans­gressed” the bound­ar­ies gov­ern­ing the doctor/patient rela­tion­ship and that he had caused “irre­par­able dam­age both to the patient and her family”.

There has been some cov­er­age in the media.  Per­haps the most accur­ate reflec­tion of what happened can be found in the  Guern­sey Press: Down­load Guernsey_Press_front_page, Down­load Guernsey_Press_Interview

The gov­ern­ing body of the Guern­sey hos­pit­als, the Board of Health, would also appear to have some ser­i­ous ques­tions to answer.

Michele recently did an excel­lent inter­view on BBC Radio4: Woman’s Hour, that encap­su­lated the core issues around this type of pro­fes­sional abuse. The inter­view is at the begin­ning of the show — listen here.