Legal forum: Libel tourist invasion
US celebrities are being actively courted by media lawyers to take advantage of Britain’s tougher libel laws and bring their cases to London. By Robert Verkaik

Thursday, 21 August 200

It is often said that tales of adultery and spiteful tittle-tattle are the price of celebrity in the Land of the Free.

But that was before the UK declared itself open for libel tourism, attracting Hollywood A-listers to the Royal Courts of Justice for a spot of English justice.

Film stars and pop idols claiming their reputations have been tarnished by the US tabloids have decided that London is the place to sue their antagonists.

Leading the charge for compensation are the actress Jenifer Lopez and the troubled pop singer Britney Spears who have been wooed by UK libel lawyers promising them hefty payouts in the courts of London, Belfast and Dublin.

Other libel-law anglophiles include the US film producer Steve Bing and The film star Harrison Ford.

Yesterday their lawyer, the Belfast solicitor Paul Tweed, told The Independent that more performers, as well as a number of Russian oligarchs, were preparing to join them.

This onslaught of international legal action, which has helped establish London as the libel capital of the world, has raised concerns, from the UN and other parties, about the chilling effect of such actions on the freedoms of the press.

Those who represent celebrity clients see nothing wrong with offering a true freedom of choice to those who wish to protect their reputations and privacy.

Yesterday Mr Tweed was invited to speak to an audience of Hollywood lawyers in Beverly Hills who are keen to use UK defamation law to defeat the American press, which they claim has had a virtual free run at making huge profits out of tormenting celebrities.

In a speech which will be incendiary to America’s fourth estate, Mr Tweed offered to silence the tabloids by sidestepping US laws and issuing proceedings in the UK instead.

“One of the most effective strategies we have developed during the course of the past two or three years in terms of obtaining a speedy and satisfactory resolution for US plaintiffs has been the threat or implementation of multi-jurisdictional proceedings,” he said.

More celebrities were simply unwilling to run away and hide every time a newspaper ran a front page exposé on their private life. That was particularly so in the UK where the media industry was estimated to be worth £7bn.

“For a European however, the notion that there should be no safety net in place, whereby the veracity of what is published as fact in the public forum can be monitored, is very difficult to contemplate,” suggested Mr Tweed.
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