Stabbed With A Pen

Reading & Writing

According to today’s ‘Independent’ an author who launched a libel suit over a series of unfavourable reviews on Amazon is facing a huge legal bill after a judge struck off his case.

Chris McGrath, an ‘online entrepreneur’, tried to sue Vaughan Jones over a series of reviews on the Amazon website about his self-published satirical book “The Attempted Murder of God”.

Amazon, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and his foundation were also named as defendants because they carried the reviews. The defendants applied to have the case thrown out. Judge Maloney dismissed the case against Amazon, Richard Dawkins and his foundation whilst throwing out the vast majority of the case against Mr Jones. Mr McGrath will now face legal bills of around £100,000. The author wrecked his own case by posting defences under pseudonyms, but many argue that the result highlights the UK’s archaic libel laws once again, in which the libelled end up paying disproportionate costs.

Naturally, this got me interested in the history of libel, so I read the above book, which is stuffed with both serious and hilarious cases, from Lord Alfred Douglas suing Winston Churchill for his report on the Battle of Jutland to a listener suing the BBC for a disappointing version (too many breathy ‘H’s) of the ‘St Matthew Passion’ in 1933.

There’s also a wonderful tale about the Daily Mail VS a spirit medium and someone suing Madame Tussaud for a bad likeness. What’s fascinating is that once a seemingly trivial libel enters the courts it must be taken very seriously, resulting in the spectacle of prosecution and defence building bizarre arguments to support quite bonkers hypotheses. Are there any other great libel casebooks? This one’s a gem – seek it out.

6 comments on “Stabbed With A Pen”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    What a great story that is about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion! I will use it in future.

  2. Gretta says:

    Re Bach, not libelous, exactly, but recently someone complained to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board here that a certain Durex ad was “desecrating a beautiful aria”. I’m not sure Mozart would’ve been much bothered, and the complaint was thrown out regardless.

    Also along the same-ish lines, in Sacred Music(the Simon Russell-Beale telly series) there was something about a bloke writing music for the Catholic(?) Church, only for the Church to discover later that he’d lifted the tune straight from a lower class ditty about whoremongering, drunkeness, and general debauchery. Church not amused, but I laughed, and so did SRB.

  3. Cid says:

    God well and truly deserted that bloke then. Shame.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Didn’t Gen Booth of the Salvation Army say “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” when faced with a similar complaint?

  5. “The author wrecked his own case by posting defences under pseudonyms, but many argue that the result highlights the UK’s archaic libel laws once again, in which the libelled end up paying disproportionate costs.”

    Mr McGrath was not libelled. The Court stated that it had no opinion on the matter at this stage. All they could judge is whether the words could be deemed as defamatory. If they could then the strike out application would fail only if there were no substantive defences available (such as truth, justification, fair comment, honest comment etc).

    That the case was thrown out – which hardly ever happens in UK libel cases – should show how weak the claimant’s case was.

  6. admin says:

    According to the Independent, the case was thrown out because the judge deemed it unworthy to pursue the possibility of a small libel at great expense. While I’m ultimately on your side, I’m mystified as to why you would have entered this particular circle of Hell in the first place.

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