Thursday, 15 April 2010

BCA v Singh an important recent ruling of the Court of Appeal that has several interesting applications for AS law students.

Singh is a journalist who published an article in the Guardian newspaper that was critical of chiropractors, and in particular of claims that their treatment was effective for things such as prolonged crying in infants. He was subsequently sued for libel by the British Chiropractors' Association.

The judge at first instance found that Singh's assertion that chiropractors "happily promote bogus treatments" meant, to paraphrase "deliberately untruthful". Libel law requires a defendant to prove the truth of such a statement - this is a reversal of the usual burden of proof. Obviously, based on that finding, Singh would struggle to prove his allegation to be true.

However, Singh's view was that the judge was wrong on this, and he therefore appealed to the Court of Appeal, whose recent judgment supports Singh's view, which is that his article was comment rather than a statement of fact. Although this was only a preliminary ruling, the BCA have now discontinued their action against Singh.

There are several points for you to note here:

Firstly, the campaign for libel reform is a great example of influcences on law reform - in this case, pressure groups. All parties have now committed in their manifestos to consider the issue.

Secondly, the judges in the Court of Appeal relied in part on an American case, Underwager v Salter. This is an example of the persuasive effect of foreign judgments on English courts.

Thirdly, there are links here to the rule of law, and in particular to the idea that everyone is equal before the law. Some say libel law is used by the rich as a muzzle to silence their critics, effectively using the huge costs of defending a libel action to force critics to back down, or risk bankruptcy.


  1. The Jack of Kent blog has shown particular interest in this very important case. I suspect that lawyers for BCA have come to the view that it would be highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn the Court of Appeal decision.

    Sometimes the term "a strong court of appeal" is used when discussing precedent. The one in BCA v Singh was particularly strong - Lord Judge LCJ, Lord Neuberger MR and Sedley LJ. The Court of Appeal is entitled to select those who take particular cases and a number of fairly obvious factors are considered such as the particular expertise called for; the constitutional importance of the case; the need to have a clear statement of the law in situations where there are perhaps differing views or conflicting precedents etc.

    Link to Court of Appeal judgment

    Link to Jack of Kent

    I am personally pleased that the Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt by certain religious leaders to influence the composition of the court in cases which have some "religious element" such as certain recent employment cases.

  2. Opinions are getting more and more dangerous to express in the UK. Of course, so are facts.

  3. Obiter J - yep, was hardly a surprise that they caved, despite their statement to the press! Had seen Jack of Kent - great blog.

    Interesting stuff re: strong Court of Appeal!


Please keep comments appropriate and sensible! Thanks.