Legal experts fear new case of ‘libel tourism’ as lawyers send out hostile letters to journalists

Saudi businessman who is being sued over a suspected multibillion-dollar fraud is invoking English libel law in what experts say is the latest high-profile example of “libel tourism”. Maan al-Sanea, a member of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, is being sued by banks in New York, Dubai, London and the Cayman Islands over claims he is responsible for more than GBP 15bn of bad debt in banks in Bahrain. But reports of allegations in papers around the world, including the Wall Street Journal and the The National in Abu Dhabi, have resulted in threats of libel action by lawyers in London, the Guardian has learned. Journalists covering the case, which could have damaging repercussions for Saudi Arabia’s business reputation, have received letters from the law firm Harbottle & Lewis warning of a libel suit in the high court unless articles about Sanea are withdrawn. The warnings state the reports are “seriously defamatory” and that material relating to the affair – including statements served in open court in New York and widely available on the web – are confidential. In an explicit reference to the high cost of English libel proceedings, one letter warns that media organisations will have to pay “very substantial damages” if the material is published in England. In February, a parliamentary report criticised claimants with little connection to the country using English courts and said the government should respond. Some US states have passed laws to undo the effect of high court judgments against American citizens


One thought on “Legal experts fear new case of ‘libel tourism’ as lawyers send out hostile letters to journalists

  1. Paul Tweed

    Having served on the UK Justice Secretary’s Working Group on Libel Reform, and as a media lawyer of more than thirty years standing, acting for both Claimants and Defendants in defamation litigation, I would express my dismay and concern in relation to the respective pledges of the three main political parties’ to review the UK libel legislation.

    I believe that our existing libel laws are both fair and balanced, as outlined in the Mullis/Scott Report, with the ongoing attempts to undermine our laws by both the press and the political parties, being motivated by self-interest on the part of the former and an attempt to curry favour with the media by the latter.

    Amidst the smokescreen of vitriol directed towards international litigants, while highlighting concerns of the scientific and academic community, a fundamental interest has been conveniently overlooked, namely that of the ordinary working man on the street. His rights are being gradually undermined and stripped away from him in circumstances where he is not entitled to legal aid, and where he is up against often overwhelming odds in taking on the financial might of the publishing industry. Recent moves to curb conditional fee arrangements and the recovery of After the Event insurance premiums further serve to deny the general population the right and opportunity to protect their reputation, leaving them fair game to the whims of the tabloid press.

    While I would support any specific moves to protect scientific and academic research and debate, I would nonetheless point out that, over the years, I have also been called upon to represent research scientists and academics who have had to resort to litigation in order to protect their own individual reputations against the might of pharmaceutical and other corporate giants. The plight of these individuals appears to have been overlooked in the current media frenzy.

    21stApril 2010

    Paul Tweed
    Senior Partner
    Johnsons Solicitors
    Belfast Dublin London


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