Religion blog threatened with libel

Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, a site which has been on MWW’s blogroll for some time, has been threatened with libel action by Anglican’s for Israel. The group’s aims include

To recall the Church to G-d’s Covenant with the Jewish people and to call the Church to affirm the centrality of Israel to the Jewish faith.

They took exception to Richard Bartholomew’s 15th February report on them which included a reference from the Times to a now “spent” criminal conviction of the group’s campaign director, Huw Shooter, and to a comment by a pseudonymous poster which mentioned “criminals” in the organisation.

The letter from Simon McIlwaine puts their case:

…we are firmly of the opinion that you published details of an alleged conviction which would have been spent long ago in bad faith and out of clear malice contrary to Section 8 of the 1974 Act [on the Rehabilitation of Offenders]. It is evident that your reason for publishing those details was utterly malicious and that you did so out of spite because of Mr Shooter’s support for Israel.

You would be hard put to find a more conscientious, scrupulously-researched, and fair blog than Bartholomew’s Notes. That Richard now finds himself threatened with legal action because of the thoroughness of his research is very worrying, and we will be following developments closely.

More on the case here.

8 Responses to “Religion blog threatened with libel”

  1. andrew says:

    I’ll first welcome the Monitor back from his well-deserved holiday.

    It’s quite shocking to read this. I was under the impression that a) The 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders act was so that rehabilitated offenders were not discirminated against in employment, and b) For a libel case to succeed, the allegation had to be false.

    Has Richard actually said anything that is actually untrue? I appreciate that he may not be able to comment on the case!

  2. Monitor says:

    Thanks for the welcome back, and special thanks for holding the fort while I was away.

    No, Richard hasn’t said anything that isn’t true, and truth is usually an absolute defence against libel accusations. Except in cases covered by the Rehabilitation of offenders Act where mention of a “spent” conviction can be proven to be deliberately malicious. Richard denies malicious intent, and there appears to be nothing in his original post that suggests otherwise.

  3. Pinchbeck says:

    Hope he gets some good legal advice. Might be an idea to contact the NSS, too.
    If it comes to it, we should have a whip-round for legal fees, unless of course some kindly solicitor (Look!!Bigfoot!!), takes on the case.
    Other than that, I say fuck ’em, and let ’em sue!!

  4. Bene Diction says:

    I understand the ‘offense’ was an anonymous comment under his February post.
    Please correct me if I am misunderstanding.
    The comment was deleted upon receipt of the solicitor’s letter, which is
    a clear indication there is no malice on Bartholomew’s part.

    UK bloggers threatened and held legally responsible for a commenter?
    This comment could have come from any country in the world, and it’s IP
    can be easily traced.
    Since the party threatening is Anglican, can’t the church speak up?

    Do bloggers have to hire people to sit on their blog 24/7?
    This is important to internet law in the UK, and Richard Bartholomew would
    be well served to have other bloggers speak up for him and with him.

  5. Andy A says:

    My understanding has always been that one should provide ‘a fair and accurate report published contemporaneously’ when it comes to court cases (and I’m not sure where that phrase is from, but I remember that it was either exactly like that or very similar). I’ve often wondered how people get on when it’s necessary to refer to a conviction in, say, a book several years later. One could argue that it’s contemporaneous, since my understanding when I was a reporter was that this word encompassed the necessity that some publications couldn’t publish within, say, a day or two, becaue they were weekly, monthly or even quarterly, so it was deemed fair if the report was in their next possible issue. I didn’t know the Rehabilitatin of Offenders Act dealt with such things. I thought it was for ‘spent’ convictions, i.e. they would no longer be a bar to, say, getting a job.

  6. Monitor says:

    Bene, the anonymous comment which implied Shooter was a “convicted criminal” was the secondary complaint of Anglicans for Israel. The primary complaint was that Richard mentioned the spent conviction “maliciously”. In my opinion, the primary complaint is unfounded, and should be easily defended. However, the secondary complaint is perhaps of greatest significance to bloggers, as it touches upon how responsible we are for comments posted on our blogs.

    Looks like a comments disclaimer might be advisable practice!

  7. Pinchbeck says:

    There is a slightly poisonous element here, which should not be ignored. Namely, why are they so bothered? Being such big jeebus fans, surely they should turn the other cheek? Isn’t there an innate hypocrisy in what appears to be this rather petty move? If Shooter is truly repentant of a crime for which he was proven in a court of law to have committed, why threaten to sue at all? Surely he should be open about any past misdeeds? Why try and bury it with such heavy handedness? The whole thing is bloody bizarre.
    As if I needed any more evidence that the deeply religious have a habit of being deeply hypocritical!

  8. Maria says:

    The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act exists for a reason, and that is so that
    former offenders can get on with their lives without living in the shadow of
    their past once that offence has been spent. Pinchbeck’s comments above are absurd.
    Surely whether Christian or otherwise, one has a right to live a life free of
    their past if not going on to commit further crimes? As far as turning the other
    cheek is concerned, this doesn’t mean that Christians are somehow obliged to be
    treated in a lesser way than others, which is what Pinchbeck is suggesting.
    The Rehabilitation Act itself is one founded on forgiveness. No newspaper,
    blog or website should therefore be publishing details of a crime committed
    so many years ago. I cannot see how the publication of such can be anything
    other than malicious in intent.