BELFAST is looking to challenge London as the libel capital of the world as some of America’s biggest stars, including the singers Britney Spears and Whitney Houston, prepare to sue through its courts.
Spears is to sue the National Enquirer, based in Florida, for reports that her marriage to Kevin Federline was at an end. She is also suing seven other US and British publications that repeated the claims.
Foreign claimants have long been attracted to London because of the strict libel laws, but Belfast offers the prospect of high payouts, faster justice and lower costs.
Paul Tweed, senior partner at Johnson’s solicitors, who has been instructed by Spears, said he was also being consulted by Houston, Paula Abdul, the singer, and Steve Bing, film producer and father of Liz Hurley’s son Damian.
London won a reputation for “libel tourism” after a series of cases in which claimants went out of their way to bring actions in the capital, even when the publication had a tiny UK circulation.
Last year Roman Polanski, the film director, won £50,000 from Vanity Fair, first going to the Lords for the right to give evidence from France by videolink, for fear of deportation by Britain to America.
There were also fears that US publishers might have to stop contentious books being sold on the internet in case they reach the “claimant-friendly” English courts, after a Saudi billionaire won £30,000 damages over 23 copies of an American book imported into Britain.
One law firm, which represents American celebrities suing in London, said: “They come to the UK because it is a good place to sue. In the US there is a public figure defence which means that if you have celebrity status you can’t sue anybody in America unless you can show that they acted from malice.”
Belfast has similar libel laws to England, but waiting lists are shorter and the costs can be 75% lower. Many cases go to juries, which make higher awards. In one Belfast case, brought by Tweed, Barney Eastwood, the boxing promoter, received an award of £450,000, the highest in Irish legal history.
If an American publication does not have assets in Britain, Tweed sues distributors and website hosts. He is currently taking action against Yahoo!.
Source: The Times Online