Television physicist Professor Brian Cox yesterday handed a petition to Downing Street calling for a public interest defence in defamation cases to protect the science community from spurious litigation.
Professor Cox heads a group of scientists including Simon Singh and Dr Peter Wilmshurst who argue that the current libel laws hinder debate on important topics which are in the public's best interest including the validity and efficacy of new medical therapies.
Singh was involved in a major libel case in 2010 after commenting on the work of chiropractors in a column in the Guardian newspaper.
Singh was subsequently sued by the British Chiropractic Association but the case was finally dropped after the Court of Appeal agreed that he should be allowed to use a fair comment defence.
Defamation law is currently under review, with a Defamation Bill currently going through Parliament. However, the group headed by Professor Cox believes that the bill does not go far enough.
Professor Cox told the BBC that the test the group is applying is whether cases such as that against Mr Singh would be prevented by the new law, and they believe that the law in its current form does not go far enough.
The petition calls for the Government to protect scientists by introducing a clause preventing companies from suing individuals for libel, as they believe that the threat of expensive law suits is already stifling proper scientific debate.
Dr Wilmshurst fought a long legal battle against a manufacturer of heart implant devices after highlighting potential issues with them. Patients continued to receive the devices whilst the legal battle was ongoing.
"Some patients needed additional corrective procedures and high rates of complications have resulted in some having their devices removed surgically. At least one has died as a result," said Dr Wilmshurst.
"Some of these problems may have occurred because doctors continued to use the devices unaware that others with concerns had been successfully silenced. This is why we need a real public interest defence," he added.
Brian Cox to hand libel petition to Downing Street (The Telegraph)
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