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The chilling effect of 'lawfare' litigation
Recognising that British courts have become a prime destination for "libel tourists", the House of Lords has recently established a government panel to look into the possibility of amending its laws to make it tougher for foreigners to bring defamation suits in Britain. The UK is notorious for its plaintiff-friendly libel laws which have been accused of being "contemptuous of free speech" and making a "mockery of British justice" and because they silence writers through expensive litigation.
But even as Britain attempts to prevent frivolous libel suits, the battle continues in the US. American courts are being utilised by radical Islamic groups to stifle writers through "lawfare" – the use of law as a weapon of warfare – a tactic that has had a "chilling effect" on free speech. In contrast to the British laws, American libel law favours defendants. However, plaintiffs in the US have learned to sue their critics for defamation, not with the intent to win the case, but with the hope of imposing an unaffordably high cost on criticism of their actions.
A recent case is most instructive: the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government-funded Tarek ibn Ziyad academy for allegedly promoting Islam – a violation of church-state separation. TIZA counter-sued for libel over the ACLU's statement that it is a "theocratic school". On 9 December 2009 the court dismissed TIZA's counterclaim because, as a public school, it is required to show that the ACLU's statement was false and that it was also made with actual malice or a reckless disregard for the truth, which it was unable to do.
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