Home
This Issue
Current Issue
Next Issue
Back Issues
Index
Publications
Marxist Theory
Socialist History
Left Politics
Left Groups
New Interventions
Islamophobia Watch
Meetings
Links
Search

BOOKSHOP LIBEL FUND

14 DERISORY DAMAGES IN FIRST OF BOOKSHOP LIBEL CASES

MORAL VICTORY LEGAL IMPASSE FINANCIAL PREDICAMENT

A High Court verdict on Tuesday 2 July could be a short-term deterrent to right-wingers using libel writs to attack small radical bookshops; but it still leaves two of London's such shops with potentially crippling legal bills, and it exposes a major gap in defamation law which needs plugging.

The two-day High Court case was the culmination of an action brought nearly two years ago against Housmans Bookshop in Kings Cross, London, by someone currently using the name Alexander Baron. The right-wing anti-gay litigant had been referred to as a plagiarist in one sentence in a 136-page pamphlet stocked in the shop.

He had chosen to sue only the shop, not the author or publisher concerned, because of his distaste for the sort of material made available in radical bookshops.

Although he had at one stage demanded that the shop pay him 50,000 to drop the case, the jury awarded him just 14. Because he had already rejected a settlement offer higher than that, he was also ordered to pay most of the shop's legal costs; however, there is no expectation that he has the resources to do so.

Despite the jury's apparent sympathy with the defendants, they clearly felt virtually compelled by the judge's legal rulings to find against the shop. Following this test case - the first occasion on which a bokshop has tried to use the "innocent dissemination" defence introduced in the 1996 Defamation Act it seems that if anyone suggests to a shop or library that an item on their shelves is defamatory, and they fail to remove it immediately, then they cannot use this defence in any proceedings later brought against them, irrespective of whether it was reasonable to take thesuggestion seriously.

This action against Housmans was one of a series, dating back to 1996, brought against Housmans. Bookmarks (also in London) and others by people criticised in anti-fascist magazines. This was the first to end up in court, but one of the earlier cases against Bookmarks and Housmans, and involving the magazine Searchlight is still extant. It is due in court this autumn unless a settlement is reached first - either course is financially costly.


For further details about the case, contact Albert Beale
tel: 020 7278 4474
email:
defence@housmans.idps.co.uk


The Bookshop Libel Fund is calling for urgent financial support for the shops to cover their costs in these cases, and for a change in the law to stop bookshops being targeted in this way.

DONATIONS:

Donations to the appeal fund should be made out to "Bookshop Libel Fund" and sent to:

HOUSMANS BOOKSHOP 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX, UK 020 7278 4474

BOOKMARKS BOOKSHOP 1 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE, UK 020 7637 1848

On-line credit/debit card donations can be made at www.apoogee.com/Housmans