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A Bit Of A Warning

I see a lot of people pontificating on “ClimateGate”, the e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University. Before making grand announcements about this, people need to keep two things in mind.

Thers notes at Eschaton that Senator Boxer won’t discuss the e-mails on climate change because they are a part of a criminal investigation. The mail server was apparently hacked, and the e-mails stolen.

Skippy has a brief round-up of some of the responses to “ClimateGate”.

Now the people who are claiming that these e-mails prove that climate scientists are lying about climate change really are digging a hole for themselves. It might be a very deep and expensive hole.

East Anglia University is in the United Kingdom. The libel laws of the United Kingdom are not conducive to those who like to bad-mouth other people – they are not the free-wheeling American laws. Jams O’Donnell covers some of the major differences in his post, Libel tourists make mockery of English legal system. People bring libel suits in the UK because the defendant, the individual who shot their mouth off, has to prove what they said was true and accurate.

If these people clamoring that Global Climate Change is a conspiracy aided by these scientists, and they get sued for libel in the UK by one of the scientists, they are going to be required to prove the existence of a conspiracy and show how the scientist aided that conspiracy. You can’t just claim it, you are going to be required to prove it. I’m not familiar enough with British rules of evidence to know if the e-mails will even be admissible in the trial, as they are the “fruits” of a crime. Yes, you can be sued in a UK court, even though you live in the US, and you can be compelled to pay. Welcome to the Global Village.

If you read the British press, they are a good deal more circumspect on this matter, and I don’t doubt that they are vetting articles with their solicitors to avoid problems.

5 comments

1 Badtux { 12.03.09 at 4:59 pm }

It is actually *very* unusual for a U.S. court to enforce a British libel judgement, for the same reason that U.S. courts will rarely enforce a Saudi libel judgement for dissing the Prophet Mohammed — U.S. courts simply are not going to enforce judgements for speech that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, if you have an unpaid judgement against you in a U.K. court, forget about that London vacation or any assets that you have in the U.K., forget about travel to most Commonwealth nations such as Canada or Australia, and the interest and penalties will pile up year by year. And forget about getting paid for that magazine article you wrote for The Times of London or for your appearances on ITV, that dough goes straight into the kitty for paying off your judgement. Given that most of these folks are public personages who either travel to the UK or do business in the UK, they might find themselves with a very public awakening shortly ;).

– Badtux the Libel Penguin
(Who was once threatened with a libel lawsuit in a UK court, and looked all this sh*t up before saying “f*ck it, I’m never going to the UK and I don’t sell anything there so let’em threaten.”)

2 Kryten42 { 12.03.09 at 9:02 pm }

If it’s proven that the server was hacked by outsiders, then the emails would probably be inadmissible unless there is incontrovertible proof that they are legitimate and were not created/modified by a hacker (and even sent to any third party). In the UK/Aus legal system in a criminal case, ‘reasonable doubt’ is set at >80% (in a civil dispute case, it’s >50%) which is why even if a defendant may get off on a criminal case, they may still be successfully prosecuted in a civil case. *shrug* 🙂

I had to study law here almost 3 years ago for my security licenses. though not to the level of a lawyer (not even close! As I never had to actually study and case law etc. But I did have to be aware of the legal system and the rules of law and everything related to the licenses I was studying for).

Law is actually extremely complex. There are complex interactions between the four types of laws (common law, constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory law), and the jurisdiction. Common law in the UK generally takes precedence, and is covers a huge body of law (common law dates back to the middle ages).

Basically, in the UK, if you can afford one of the best QC’s (Queens Council, or Kings Council during the reign of a male sovereign), you can pretty much win anything! Especially as the best QC’s can manipulate the system to get a case heard in a court that may be to their advantage (because of traditional and inherent authority of courts to say what the law is, even in absence of an underlying statute). 😆 There are exceptions, of course. 😉 BTW, some believe that a QC (or KC) can not appear in court against the Crown (or Government). It was true that until the 1920’s, a QC required a special license to do so, but this is no longer the case. If a defendant can afford one, they can have one (one reason that a QC is expensive is that they are required to have a Barrister present also) and a QC must have chambers (office) in London.

In any case, until it can be proven that the email’s are in fact genuine and unaltered, and exactly what the context of the emails were, nothing else can be said. It’s all speculation. and anyone can speculate on anything. 🙂

3 Bryan { 12.03.09 at 11:34 pm }

The biggest problem today is the global nature of corporations, most of whom have some connection with the UK or the Commonwealth. They can also issue take-down letters to your hosting service, which might impact you.

Americans don’t understand about the ‘Net being global, and how that can intrude into their lives. No one would bother suing me, as there is no chance of any money, but if someone is tied to “deep pockets”, there is always a lawyer willing to try.

As long as what is said is labeled as speculation or opinion, and nothing identifies individuals, you are probably in the clear. If you start naming names and making “statements of fact”, you had better have proof, or you are at risk.

I haven’t seen anything to suggest that there are lawyers/solicitors involved, but people should be aware of possibilities.

4 Badtux { 12.04.09 at 10:54 am }

Actually, speculation or opinion is *not* protected in the UK if it is deemed to be libelous or intended to lead one to libelous conclusions. “Cavutos” (“Questions” that are in fact intended to lead one to a specific opinion) are protected here in the US, but if you speculate, “Do climate scientists at Cambridge University rape dead cockapoos? Did the chancellor at Cambridge University have sex with sheep?”, expect involvement by CU’s legal department ;).

If, on the other hand, you say “Animal Liberation Front spokeswoman Janet Dogooder stated in a news conference today that the chancellor at Cambridge University had sex with sheep”, followed by a quote from CU’s spokesperson saying exactly the opposite, then you’re in the clear. You’re just reporting the news then, and CU’s recourse is against Janet Dogooder, not against you. Thus why he-said she-said journalism is so prevalent — it basically eliminates all chance of a libel lawsuit coming down against the journalist. This is as true in the US as it is in the UK.

Regarding the international nature of modern corporations, News Corpse owns a lot of stuff in Britain that could be attached in any judgement by a UK court. Probably irresponsible for their Fox News affiliate to be spurting out so much stuff that is clearly libelous of British climate scientists ;).
.-= last blog ..Friday Morning Post-Rock =-.

5 Bryan { 12.04.09 at 3:24 pm }

The only “authoritative source” is the system administrator of the affected server who has the logs, everyone else is just guessing. Without those logs, you don’t even know for certain that any of the e-mails are real.

Actually, Badtux, I was thinking of Rupert when I wrote that, wondering about the possibilities of that source of “deep pockets” for British climate research. That would certainly hurt 😉