Simon Singh wins libel case

After two years of a long and drawn out battle, the BCA has finally caved in and announced they are withdrawing their libel action against Dr Simon Singh. Lawyers of Singh were advised after the BCA filed a notice of discontinuation in the high court.

Singh was sued in April 2008, by the BCA for a piece he wrote in the Guardian’s comment pages, where he suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors made on treating certain childhood conditions such as colic and asthma. The BCA alleged that Dr Singh had effectively accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

In a statement, they said:

Having carefully considered its position in the light of the judgment of the Court of Appeal (1st April 2010), the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has decided to discontinue its libel action against Simon Singh.

As previously made clear, the BCA brought the claim because it considered that Simon Singh had made a serious allegation against its reputation, namely, that the BCA promoted treatments that it knew to be “bogus”.

…the BCA now feels that the time is right for the matter to draw to a close.

As recently as April 1st, Simon won the right to appeal the initial decision by Mr Justice Eady over the meaning of the word “bogus”. Lord Justice Judge, Lord Justice Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley ruled unanimously that Singh had a right to appeal that his article was opinion or comment;

They said; “..this litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”

Before the case was dropped Singh had stated that he would continue to defend his position, even though he expected the case could cost him in excess of 1 million pounds. He has already spent more than 100,000 pounds of his own money defending the case.

The action taken by the BCA has backfired to some extent, resulting in significant scrutiny of chiropractic treatment in the UK. In addition, following complaints to the Advertising standards authority, one in four chiropractors in Britain are currently under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in their advertisements.

In a related defensive move, the McTimoney Chiropractoric Association (MCA) deleted their website for fear of retribution, and advised its members to do the same. In a leaked email they told their members:

REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.

And even here in Australia, we were not immune.

In October 2009, Australian Skeptics had a complaint lodged with the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) following the publication of Singh’s original Guardian article on our website. It was pre-published across the world with the libelous statement removed on the 1 year anniversary of original publication. Chiropractor Joseph Ierano wrote a letter to Australian Skeptics with a detailed but somewhat rambling rebuff of the article, and when he did not receive a response to his liking, he went to the HCCC. The complaint was subsequently dismissed.

Of the case being dropped Simon Singh said:

“The case is not quite over, because we still have to argue over costs. Having backed down and dropped the case, I expect the British Chiropractic Association to pay my legal bill of 200,000 pounds. I fully expect the BCA to argue that they should not pay all my costs, but I think it is the very least that they should do because this entire legal battle has been instigated by the BCA.

“Other scientists, science writers, bloggers, investigative journalists, human rights activists – all get threatened with these libel suits,” he told BBC News. “And at the end of the day, the people who lose out are the general public because we don’t get to find out the real truth because these libel suits just stop good journalism.”

The decision by the BCA to withdraw the action despite being “…advised there are strong grounds for appeal against the Court of Appeal” is a victory for journalists and science writers. Singh said he was hugely relieved, but expressed his annoyance that libel actions continued to be used to block what he viewed as legitimate scientific inquiry and debate.

The Guardian reposted Simon’s original article today and comments are open so head over and leave your thoughts!

Libel reform is still desperately needed in the UK. Please sign the petition – you do not have to be a UK resident to sign.

More coverage at Sense About Science. and the BBC.