You may have seen this post, where I showed that my Tory MP, Edward Timpson, had declined to sign Early Day Motion 423. This is the EDM tabelled by Dr Evan Harris MP (Lib Dem Science spokesman) regarding the update of Britain’s rather unfair libel laws, that are being used by people with vested interests to stifle and silence scientific discourse. The most notable use of these libel laws is the infamous and ongoing attempt by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) to censor science writer Simon Singh, in a piece in the Guardian for the following passage:
“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.“
EDM423 calls for a re-appraisal of the current UK libel laws to protect scientists, academics and journalists from lawsuits for simply engaging in scientific debate or discussion.
So I had asked my MP (Timpson) to sign this EDM. He declined on the grounds that EDM423 seeks to reverse the burden of proof in libel cases. I replied to him, questioning this, as It was my interpretation of the EDM that this was not the case (an interpretation shared by Simon Singh, who suggested I respond to the original letter I received from Timpson).
This is what I got in reply (abridged):
You are correct to note that the EDM does not explicitly seek to reverse the burden of proof in libel cases, but nor is it explicit in stating the balance that it wishes to strike. I am sure you will understand that it concerns me to put my name to such a sentiment.
Nevertheless we must continue to press that [sic] Government that any changeto libel law will protect both academics and journalists.
It would appear that Timpson, whilst apparently broadly supportive of the need for libel law reform, is unwilling to support a measure which does not explicitly define the changes to the burden of proof it might wish to impose.
D’oh. I tried.