the High Court in London, Lady Justice Smith granted Indian national [who's
never visited Britain] 'His Holiness [self proclaimed]' Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji
Maharaj the right to appeal in his libel case against British journalist Hardeep
Singh. The case will now go before three judges at the Court of Appeal to decide
whether it should proceed to a full trial.
Hardeep Singh said: I've been fighting this case for three years
already; this adds a minimum of another six months of torment. If I
lose, it will cost me over £1 million, let alone my costs so far and a
tenth of my life. This feels like the biggest game of poker you can
possibly play: all for exercising my right to free expression.
He added: I'm hoping the government take reform of our libel laws
seriously and we get a robust bill in the New Year.
Mike Harris from Index on Censorship said: When individuals like
Hardeep Singh risk £1m and bankruptcy all for a single newspaper
article, it really hits home how important libel reform is. I hope the
government backs the Libel Reform campaign's call for wholesale reform
of our libel laws so free speech is protected.
Síle Lane from Sense About Science said: Change in the libel laws
cannot come soon enough. Singh's case highlights that the laws as they
stand are unfair, unduly costly, out of date and against the public
interest. Until we have a clear, strong public interest defence against
libel actions writers, bloggers, NGOs and journalists will be forced to
back down in the face of threats.
The case centres on an article that Hardeep Singh wrote in August
2007 for the Sikh Times, a British newspaper, in which he claimed that
Jeet Singh was an accused Cult leader whose teachings were not in
line with mainstream Sikh doctrine.
In May 2010 Mr Justice Eady threw the case out with no right to
appeal. Eady's judgment held that secular courts should not make a
judgment on a religious dispute.
The application for appeal was granted on the limited basis that
there are arguable issues in Singh's article that do not tread on the
forbidden area of doctrinal dispute.