Monday, December 6, 2010

Fresh From The Courts

Australia's defamation laws are truly awful. If someone says something bad about you, rather than say manning up and responding in kind, you can instead sue them for hundreds of thousands of dollars for your hurt feelings and lost reputation, (however that's measured). No measure is taken of the additional hit your reputation suffers as a person of such feeble character that you go crying to the courts every time Bobby called you a nasty name.

They're so bad that they're a frequent destination for libel tourism, where someone in the UK who makes an allegedly defamatory statement on the internet gets sued in New South Wales, thereby taking advantage of Australia's laws that are very generous to plaintiffs.

But, every now and then, they serve a useful purpose. A newspaper makes allegations against a politician. The politician claims they've been defamed, and tries to sue a newspaper to salvage their career and get some cash on the side. The newspaper doubles down by claiming that the allegations are in fact true. And then you get hilarious additional newspaper articles with stories like this:
THE federal Labor MP Craig Thomson's mobile phone records, driver's licence details and credit card vouchers with his signature show he used a Health Services Union credit card to pay for the services of a Sydney escort agency, the Supreme Court was told yesterday.
I had never heard of Craig Thomson, nor the allegations against him, until today. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, I will make up my own mind about the likely truth of the allegations based on the evidence being reported. And with the addition of the magic words "the Supreme Court was told yesterday", newspapers can now repeat the allegations against him without the risk of a lawsuit themselves.

On the other hand, to gather a sense of how ludicrous Australian laws are, Tim Blair (who linked to the story), doesn't allow comments for these types of posts (and neither do I). That's because under Australian law, (contrary to all common sense) owners of blogs are responsible for defamatory statements made by commenters.

Oh well - at least we can take the occasional comedy value as a small recompense.