Libel tourism

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Libel tourism is a term, first coined by Geoffrey Robertson, to describe forum shopping for libel suits. It particularly refers to the practice of pursuing a case in England and Wales, in preference to other jurisdictions, such as the United States, which provide more extensive defenses for those accused of making derogatory statements.[1]

A critic of English defamation law, journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft attributes the practice to the introduction of no win no fee agreements, the presumption that derogatory statements are false, the difficulty of establishing fair comment and "the caprice of juries and the malice of judges."[2] Wheatcroft contrasts this with United States law since the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case. "Any American public figure bringing an action now has to prove that what was written was not only untrue but published maliciously and recklessly."[2]

Two other critics of English defamation law, the US lawyers Samuel A. Abady and Harvey Silverglate, have cited the example of IrishSaudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz, who by the time of his death in 2009, had threatened suit more than 40 times in England against those who accused him of funding terrorism.[3] Mahfouz also took legal action in Belgium, France and Switzerland against those repeating the accusations. George W. Bush advisor Richard Perle threatened to sue investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in London, because of a series of critical articles Hersh had written about him.[4]

A series of cases involving US citizens being sued in English courts led to new laws in both countries. In the United States, the SPEECH Act unanimously passed the US Congress, which makes foreign defamation judgments unenforceable in US courts if they do not meet US free speech standards. In England and Wales, the Defamation Act 2013 requires plaintiffs to show that England is the proper jurisdiction to hear a case when the defendant does not live in England or Wales.

Case law[edit]

Berezovsky v Michaels[edit]

In 2000, the House of Lords gave Boris Berezovsky and Nikolai Glushkov permission to sue Forbes for libel in the English courts.[5] In 2003, the case was settled when Forbes offered a partial retraction.[6][7]

The issues relating to jurisdiction of the English courts in such actions were appealed to the House of Lords, at that time the highest court in England and Wales, making this the key test case on libel tourism.[8][9][10]

The Ehrenfeld case[edit]

Khalid bin Mahfouz and two members of his family sued Rachel Ehrenfeld, an Israeli-born writer and United States citizen over her 2003 book on terrorist financing, Funding Evil, which asserted that Mahfouz and his family provided financial support to Islamic terrorist groups.[11] The book was not published in Britain,[citation needed] although 23 copies of her book had been purchased online in the UK,[12] and excerpts from the book had been published globally on the ABC News web site.[13] Ehrenfeld was advised by English lawyer Mark Stephens to claim that the suit in England violated her First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and chose not to defend the action.[citation needed] Instead, she countersued in the U.S.[14] In his 2005 judgment, Justice Eady criticised Dr. Ehrenfeld for attempting to cash in on the libel action without being prepared to defend it on its merits and specifically rebutted her suggestion of forum shopping. Eady ruled that Ehrenfeld should pay £10,000 to each claimant plus costs, apologize for false allegations and destroy existing copies of her book.[13]

Eady has been internationally criticized[15] for his perceived bias in the case and his general restrictive approach to free speech. Additionally, the libel laws which were applied came under scrutiny in England, where calls for libel law reform increased after Ehrenfeld's case. Analyzing English libel law, the United Nations Human Rights Committee cautioned that: "practical application of the law of libel has served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work, including through the phenomenon known as 'libel tourism.' The advent of the internet and the international distribution of foreign media also create the danger that a State party's unduly restrictive libel law will affect freedom of expression worldwide on matters of valid public interest."[16]

Laws addressing libel tourism[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

On January 1, 2014, the Defamation Act 2013 came into force, requiring plaintiffs who bring actions in the courts of England and Wales alleging libel by defendants who do not live in Europe to demonstrate that the court is the most appropriate place to bring the action. Serious harm to an individual's reputation or serious financial harm to a corporation must also be proven. Good faith belief that a disclosure was in the public interest was made a defense.[17]

United States[edit]


The Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 and 2009 were both bills aimed at addressing libel tourism by barring U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. These protections were passed in the 2010 SPEECH Act which passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed by US President Barack Obama on August 10, 2010.[18][19]

New York[edit]

In late December 2007, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, based on a decision by the New York State Court of Appeals, ruled that the state's current "long-arm" statutes governing business transactions did not give it jurisdiction to protect author Ehrenfeld.[20] The court noted, however, that if the law were to change, Ehrenfeld could go back to court.

On January 13, 2008, two members of the New York State Legislature, Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman (D-Queens) and Senator Dean Skelos (R-LI), introduced a "Libel Terrorism Protection Act" in both legislative houses (bills no. A09652 and S 6676-B)[21] to amend the New York civil procedures in response to the Ehrenfeld case. The bill passed the New York state legislature on a rare unanimous vote,[22] and on April 29, 2008, Gov. Paterson signed the bill into law.[23] The Libel Terrorism Protection Act enables New York courts to assert jurisdiction over anyone who obtains a foreign libel judgment against a New York publisher or writer, and to limit enforcement to those judgments that satisfy "the freedom of speech and press protections guaranteed by both the United States and New York Constitutions."[24]


In October 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law protections against libel tourism (California's Libel Tourism Act) that took effect January 1, 2010. The Act provides that California courts shall not recognize a foreign-country judgment if "the judgment includes recovery for a claim of defamation unless the court determines that the defamation law applied by the foreign court provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and the press as provided by both the United States and California Constitutions" (C.C.P. sec. 1716(c)(9)) and other protections.[25] The law received significant bi-partisan support.[26]


In August 2008, Illinois enacted a libel tourism law that is similar to the statute passed in New York.[27][28]


In May 2009, Florida also enacted a libel tourism law similar to the law passed in New York.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Libel Tourism Chills Investigative Journalism Archived 2010-11-24 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Wheatcroft, Geoffrey (28 February 2008). "The worst case scenario". The Guardian. p. 32. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  3. ^ Samuel A. Abady; Harvey Silverglate (7 November 2006). "'Libel tourism' and the War on Terror". Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  4. ^ Berlins, Marcel. Index on Censorship, July 2004, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p18-20
  5. ^ "Judgments - Berezovsky v. Michaels and Others Glouchkov v. Michaels and Others (Consolidated Appeals)". 11 May 2000. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Shuddup". The Economist. 13 March 2003.
  7. ^ The following statement appended to the article on the Forbes website summarises: 'On 6 March 2003 the resolution of the case was announced in the High Court in London. FORBES stated in open court that (1) it was not the magazine's intention to state that Berezovsky was responsible for the murder of Listiev, only that he had been included in an inconclusive police investigation of the crime; (2) there is no evidence that Berezovsky was responsible for this or any other murder; (3) in light of the English court's ruling, it was wrong to characterize Berezovsky as a mafia boss. "Berezovsky Vs. Forbes" Forbes 31 March 2003
  8. ^ Delta, George B.; Matsuura, Jeffrey H. (2008). "Jurisdictional issues in cyberspace". Law of the Internet. Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Aspen Publishers. pp. 3–92. ISBN 978-0-7355-7559-2. Berezovsky is the leading case in what has come to be known as "libel tourism
  9. ^ Crook, Tim (2010). "Defamation law". Comparative media law and ethics. Taylor & Francis. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-0-415-55161-8.
  10. ^ Taylor, Daniel C. (November 2010). "Libel Tourism: Protecting Authors and Preserving Comity" (PDF). Georgetown Law Journal. 99: 194. ISSN 0016-8092. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
  11. ^ "Britain, a destination for "libel tourism"". Archived from the original on 23 January 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
  12. ^ "New York state lawmakers offer legislation to protect authors". Foster's Daily Democrat. 14 January 2008. Archived from the original on 9 September 2023. Retrieved 9 September 2023.
  13. ^ a b Full text of the High Court judgment, 2005-05-03
  14. ^ Pallister, David (15 November 2007). "US author mounts 'libel tourism' challenge". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 April 2023. Retrieved 9 September 2023.
  15. ^ "How our senior libel judge stamps on free speech – all over the world | George Monbiot". 19 October 2009.
  16. ^ "Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee". University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. 30 July 2008. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  17. ^ Sarah Lyall (25 April 2013). "Libel Cases Now Harder to Bring in England". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  18. ^ Meisel, Aylana (3 August 2010). "Congress Unites to Pass Bill Protecting American Authors and Publishers". The Cutting Edge. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  19. ^ Greenslade, Roy (11 August 2010). "Obama seals off US journalists and authors from Britain's libel laws". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  20. ^ N.Y. Court of Appeals ruling, Dec. 20, 2007
  21. ^ Alyssa A. Lappen, "America's First Amendment lifeline", Human Events, Jan. 25, 2008
  22. ^ Matthew Pollack (1 April 2008). "New York strikes back against libel tourism". Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
  23. ^ "Gov. Paterson signs legislation". 1 May 2008. Archived from the original on 29 January 2010.
  24. ^ Samuel A. Abady; Harvey Silverglate (25 February 2008). "Rachel's Law: NY's 'Libel-Tourism' Fix". New York Post.
  25. ^ Cal. Code of Civil Procedure sections 1716 and 1717, as amended by Chapter 579, Statutes of 2009 (SB 320 - Corbett).
  26. ^ CA Leg Counsel bill/vote records
  27. ^ 735 Ill. Comp. Stat 5/12-621 (b)(7) (2009)
  28. ^ 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2-209 (b-5) (2009)
  29. ^ Florida Statutes 55.605 (2)(h); 55.6055

Further reading[edit]

  • Barbour, Emily C. The SPEECH Act: The Federal Response to "Libel Tourism". Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2010.
  • Bell, Avi. Libel Tourism: International Forum Shopping for Defamation Claims. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008.
  • Brower, Amy J. Libel Tourism and Foreign Libel Lawsuits. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2011.
  • Henning, Anna C., and Vivian S. Chu. "Libel Tourism" Background and Legal Issues. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2009.
  • Melkonian, Harry. Defamation, Libel Tourism and the SPEECH Act of 2010: The First Amendment Colliding with the Common Law. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2011.
  • Packard, Ashley. Digital Media Law. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

External links[edit]