Alan Rusbridger

Diary – 3 May 2003

The editor of the Guardian explains how George Galloway has made lots of new friends

This is not a statement that will wring many heart-strings, but if there’s one group of professionals which has been a bit down-at-heel in recent months it’s libel lawyers. For a variety of reasons – Jeffrey Archer languishing in jail among them – there has not been a queue of claimants outside the Inns of Court waiting to consult eminent practitioners in the black arts of defamation. So the impending case of Galloway v. Moore has put a spring in the step of m’learned friends. For a while it had looked as though we would never again see a titanic High Court slugging match between two veteran pugilists. And now we’ve got one. Doubtless there is some spread-betting site somewhere on the Internet offering odds on the forthcoming encounter. Nothing in libel is simple, far less certain. The late George Carman was by no means the only defamation silk to have conjured eleventh-hour rabbits out of hitherto invisible hats. But, if forced to put my money on one of the old bruisers, I think it would be on a points victory by Moore. Gorgeous George may have won a lot of scraps in the past, but he’s a busy chap and has perhaps not had time to keep abreast of the interesting changes in the libel law over the past couple of years. In particular, the judgment of Lord Nicholls in the case Albert Reynolds brought against the Sunday Times may have escaped him. That judgment – though still in its early days of development – seems to give newspapers a measure of protection when writing about matters which are clearly in the public interest so long as they can prove that they’ve behaved reasonably. So if a particular story proves to be untrue, the newspaper can still win if it can show it has stuck by a number of rules, including publishing the other side of the story and framing the charges in a suitable tone.

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