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A sure sign of creeping authoritarianism in Paradise Island.

The court order served on l'Express to identify the individual who made some co mments on ICAC is a frightening attack on our right to freedom of expression. The first question to be asked here is: How can it be remotely possible for an o rganisation to be libelled? In English law there is an absolute bar to claims by public bodies in defamation. The House of Lords in Derbyshire CC v Times Newspa pers Ltd ([1993] AC 534),decided that a local authority should not be able to su e in defamation. It is of the highest public importance that a democratically ele cted governmental body, or indeed any governmental body, should be open to uninh ibited public criticism. It also found that there was no public interest that ce ntral or local government organs should be allowed to sue for libel as it was ac tually contrary to the public interest. The conclusion was reached on the basis of the common law, which was said to be in agreement with Article 10 of the Euro pean Convention on Human Rights. Several established democracies do not allow pu blic bodies to sue for defamation under any circumstances, both because of the d anger to freedom of expression and because public bodies are not seen as having a reputation entitled to protection. As abstract entities without a profit motive, they lack an emotional or financial interest in preventing damage to their good name. Moreover, it is improper for government to spend public money on defamati on suits to defend its own reputation. In the United States, no court of last res ort ... has ever held, or even suggested, that prosecutions for libel on governm ent have any place in the American system of jurisprudence. The Indian Supreme Co urt has held that the Government, local authority and other organs and institutio ns exercising power are not entitled to sue for defamation. The European Court of Human Rights has held that "The limits of acceptable criticism are ... wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the l atter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny o f his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he mu st consequently display a greater degree of tolerance." (Lingens v Austria). In other cases, the Court made it clear that the wider margin of criticism applies to all public officials, not only politicians. Here, in our wonderful so called Paradise Island, governments and government of ficials have been abusing libel laws to suppress criticism of official wrongdoin g, maladministration and corruption, and to avoid public scrutiny. These laws of ten flout international principles and standards and are also often unconstituti onal. Our politicians and senior civil servants have realised that the easiest a nd most convenient way to stop someone from talking about their misdemeanours (a lleged or otherwise) is simply to issue a writ for libel for tens of millions of rupees. Often, individuals held the most in contempt by the public are the firs t ones to rush to the courts and hide behind the legal armoured gown of the libe l laws. Oh for the day when one Judge will have the courage and decency to tell the plaintiff politician: I am sorry, but you really have no reputation to prote ct.