Chiropractors drop science writer libel case

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Chiropractic Association said on Thursday it had dropped a libel case against a science writer which campaigners said had threatened to muzzle scientific debate.

The decision follows an Appeal Court ruling in favour of Simon Singh over an opinion piece he wrote in 2008 about chiropractors, who use physical manipulation to treat musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain.

In an article in the Guardian newspaper, Singh had suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors made on treating certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

The chiropractors’ association (BCA) had alleged that Singh was in effect accusing its members of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

The BCA said it still considered Singh’s article defamatory, but had decided to stop its action following the Appeal Court ruling to avoid further legal costs for either side.

“While it was right to bring this claim at the outset, the BCA now feels that the time is right for the matter to draw to a close,” it said.

Earlier this month, the Appeal Court overturned a previous judgement that barred Singh from using the defence of fair comment in the case.

Singh, who has spent more than 200,000 pounds defending himself, said he would not celebrate until there was a reform of English libel laws.

“Unless our libel laws change urgently and radically, I will not be the last journalist hauled through the libel courts and who will have to face financial disaster and two years of hell simply for raising an important and valid matter of public interest,” he said.

Tracey Brown, of campaign group Sense About Science, said the case had shone a light into the “dark corner of legal threats being used to silence academics, scientists, bloggers, writers and scientists.”

All three main political parties have pledged to reform libel laws should they win the general election on May 6.

Critics say British courts are used by litigants from abroad to take advantage of rules seen as favourable to claimants.

In England, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, who must establish what has been reported is true, as opposed to the United States for example, where the party bringing the case must prove that it is false.

Editing by Steve Addison