One of the important planks of the “Libel Reform Campaign’s” platform is that, in England, “The law is so biased towards claimants and so hostile to writers that London has become known as the libel capital of the world”. This claim is often made but lacks a clear factual basis. The freedom of expression NGO, Article 19, has carried out a survey of civil defamation cases in 176 countries, This shows that the highest number of cases is in Germany, Poland, Sweden and the USA – with the USA having the highest average damages awards – US$471,221.
The highest number of cases comparative to population is in Sweden, Moldova and Cyprus, the largest damages in Canada, Pakistan, Panama and the USA with the largest damages relative to GDP in India and Pakistan. Far from being the “libel capital of the world”, London is an also ran – the United Kingdom does not feature on any of these lists.
Even by European standards, England does not do well in the “libel league tables”. In the 53 countries surveyed in Europe the average is 700 cases per year – in contrast, in England in 2008 (the last year for which full figures were available) there were 259 defamation claims brought (see the Judicial Statistics). The highest number of cases were in Sweden and Germany. Moldova had most cases per head of the population. Once again, England does not feature.
It appears that, far from attracting hordes of libel litigants, English libel laws – and the high costs of bring defamation proceedings – are deterring people from bringing claims in this jurisdiction. London has become a libel backwater – here, as in many other areas, the action is all elsewhere.