Saturday, 26 November 2011

Media & Hearing Summary

The libel case has gathered a lot of momentum in the media. Here is a selection of the sites on the net which caught my eye and a little clarification where anything written is not correct. There are also some ramblings from me about the hearing too (please read the disclaimer at the bottom before toys start being thrown out of the pram)

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The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/man-faces-libel-allegations-over-amazon-book-review-6259431.html by Jerome Taylor

Jerome has written a reasonable and fair article. The libel case does consider a review I wrote but also my own follow-up comments which is an important distinction to make. I then wrote an article on the Dawkins website and participated in follow up comments.

It's worth pointing out that in the hearing itself, it was revealed that McGrath had added words by other commentators/reviews/Amazon users/RD.net users and attributed them to me or inferred I was in some way responsible for those comments.

Jerome was also right to say, on the date he wrote the article, that I was self represented (or a Litigant in Person). This actually changed on the night before the hearing simply because my witness statement was of more use for the other Defendants and I would have, no doubt, wasted some time in getting my points across (or maybe I wouldn't).

During the hearing, my witness evidence was not referred to that much at all. The first day was entirely for the First and Second Defendants and the second was mainly for the Third Defendant with perhaps 45 minutes for my own submissions. However, since the start of the claim I have been self represented and it is anticipated that should the case proceed I shall continue to represent myself unless I have it confirmed I have some continued formal representation (which I am not yet sure about).

[EDIT 11/02/2012: One day before the hearing I attained a pro-bono barrister who made the submissions on my behalf. The submissions took approximately 20 mins, if that. This was done purely so that there was no overlap of evidence.]

There was nothing underhand about this; it was simply for the hearings to be dealt with expeditiously. There was also nothing underhand about the issuing of the strike out applications and nor was this an attempt to sweep this under the carpet. Justice works slowly at times and a case, from a litigation point of view, can be dealt with quickly if the facts of a defence are obvious or if the Particulars of Claim are obviously defective.

For example if someone is suing a UK company but a publication was hosted on a US website, then the UK website has no liability. Why should the UK company be dragged through an expensive and lengthy trial when the fact can be made obvious to all at an earlier date?

One might ask why I issued a strike out application? It's quite simple really; it was revealed in the public hearing and everyone in the courtroom heard it. I had accused Mr McGrath of writing his own reviews using fake accounts, exposed him as the pseudonym "Scrooby", had set up his publishing company initially to market the book and that the author of the book (the Scrooby persona) was a creationist. I also accused him of setting up other Amazon accounts which were used to respond to me to make it look like McGrath had more support.

During the hearing, Mr McGrath was asked whether he agreed that he had written a response on the Amazon website admitting to the allegations I had made. Mr McGrath admitted that he did write such an article. It was also said that "Scrooby" might have been arguing from a position of parody but that the denial of evolution "seemed" indicative of a creationist personality when read by others. Indeed this is the interpretation that other "reviewers" put forward and since the McGrath has made his work public, the overriding view is that the book has mangled evolutionary theory and does indeed represent Creationism as a viable alternative (if not the only alternative).

The precise meaning of the word "Creationist" was also discussed by McGrath with reference to the Peter Vardy case (which is not precedent or in any other way influential on the Court). It was argued that the term "Creationist" is simply a way to describe a "team" and that Mr McGrath, despite stating it was a derogatory term, had actually used it himself in his exchanges with me and within the book using his alter ego "Scrooby".

It was, however, put forward by the defence that doctrinal issues i.e bating the use of religious terms, are not within the court's remit as ruled in Hardeep Singh's libel case.

McGrath was also asked whether he set up the additional Amazon accounts (I think 3 in total) which were used to reply to me and, in some cases, mock me. Mr McGrath admitted that he did set up and use those accounts.

The main allegations in McGrath's libel claim were essentially admitted as being true, by him, in the courtroom. Therefore my strike out application was to kill those elements of the libel claim for obvious reasons.

It has been said, by friends, that if Mr McGrath had not admitted to my allegations in his final Amazon postings, I would have had a massive, and possibly insurmountable, job in proving that what I wrote was true. I would have needed to provide evidence of these extra Amazon accounts for instance. I would have needed to provide evidence that the publishing arm of McG Productions had existed as a distinct publisher prior to the launch of the book and much more besides.

Therefore my argument was simple enough; I should not be expected to defend a case, or prove the truth of words I wrote, if the Claimant has admitted to many of the things he was suing on and had included in the Particulars of Claim.

Why?

Because the truth is a full defence to an allegation of libel. Therefore, it should be struck out. It really gets no simpler than that.

There are some other allegations I made which were not really dealt with in the hearing because they would need a little more explanation and for which it was not necessary to go into in too much detail. I'm not discussing them until the end of the ENTIRE process. Sorry. But, as I said, this hearing was not to conduct a trial or even a mini trial. It was to strike out the most obvious failings in the claim itself that could be found.

However, I think it would be fair and accurate to say that those other allegations (I think there were 2) are things which I will need to prove at a higher level. It's not an impossible task though. It could rest on the balance of probabilities or I might be able to rely upon other defences which were discussed briefly on the day. If the case remains on some level, I suspect it would be because of those two things should the others be struck out as a result of the evidence presented but again these would have to be weighted against the Jameel principle (case law) which says (roughly) that the wick isn't worth the candle. For example, £500 worth of damages is not worth a £40,000 legal bill. I think that's how that particular argument can be explained in a simple way but I'm willing to be corrected by any more legally fluent folks.

However, it is one of the founding principles of the push for libel reform. There is no question that a case like this is better served either in the lower court or via some mediation/arbitration service. The resources used and time taken is breathtaking.

So, we are now waiting for the Judge to hand down his verdict on the strike out application. It's not particularly complex at all (I've been there for a hearing on tax evasion - not me, someone else). However, what this case does have is a mass of paperwork. Absolutely masses of paperwork. Volume does not equal complexity. It just makes it harder to sift through.

At the start of the second hearing Mr McGrath was concerned with the way the case was going to the extent that he wanted the court to "disband", that he be allowed to reserve his original 61 page Particulars of Claim (POC) from memory (reduced to the present 16 pages sometime in June/July 2010) and that he face no costs orders as a result of his requests being met.

In other words, he wanted the claim to start over from the beginning. The Court stated that because Mr McGrath was happy to have conducted his case over the past few months, which intrinsically relied upon his 16 page POC, that the process should continue.

Had the Court agreed with McGrath, then all of the costs, time and paperwork over the preceding months would have been a waste.


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New York Observer

http://www.observer.com/2011/11/british-author-sues-amazon-reviewer-richard-dawkins-and-amazon-for-libel/ by Emily Witt

Simple article. Amazed it is high profile enough to have crossed the Atlantic.


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The Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/amazon/8880832/Author-sues-reviewer-over-comments-on-Amazon.html Anon

Again, this article was published before it was revealed I was being represented.


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LA Times

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/11/british-author-sues-amazon-over-user-review.html

by Carolyn Kellogg

Basic article covering the basic elements of the case.


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PaidContent.org

http://paidcontent.org/article/419-self-published-british-author-sues-for-libel-over-bad-amazon-review/

by Laura Hazard Owen

The author has spelled my name incorrectly many times. I forgive her. It's an easy mistake with a weird name like mine. But the article is quite good really and contains some interesting bits of information to get the gist of the case.


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Ministry of Truth

http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2011/07/12/shades-of-kaschke-christopher-mcgrath-aka-scrooby/

http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2011/09/16/in-which-i-get-a-nastygram/

by Ministry of Truth


Interesting articles; the second serves as a warning to others who want to write about the case I think.


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Jack Of Kent

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2011/10/richard-dawkins-is-being-sued-for-libel.html

by David Allen Green

The first person/blog to publicly name all of the Defendants. No other details on here or comments allowed and no surprise considering the jurisdiction in which the author resides!


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Early Resolution

http://www.earlyresolution.co.uk/hardeep-singh-v-libel-reform

by Hardeep Singh and posted by John Jameson

Great article by Hardeep who is a person that has been an immense source of support and help for me. Not to be confused with the Glaswegian comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli who I initially confused him with... he's actually funnier than Kohli anyway.


*** This "report" is made in good faith and therefore subject to the protections of section 4.1 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. The hearings were held in public. Information written here is from notes taken during the hearing and should only be constituted as fact from that viewpoint. I have not posted my opinion of any words that were said and I deliberately shy away from writing any direct quotes. Any analogies are my own and were not part of the court record unless otherwise indicated. ***

4 comments:

  1. VJ

    An excellent summary. Full of common sense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Damn, made my reply on the wrong post! Sorry, see previous post!

    ReplyDelete