Scottish PEN argues that defamation law should be not be used by those in positions of power as a means of silencing fair comment or criticism.February 21, 2021
Scottish PEN argues that defamation law should be not be used by those in positions of power as a means of silencing fair comment or criticism.
Scottish actor, director and musician David Paisley has been warned of defamation action being taken against him by MP for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry QC. Letters delivered in November 2020 by Joanna Cherry’s representatives warn that Mr Paisley will face legal action for a tweet posted from his personal account, which asked why the MP donated money to a legal fundraiser in aid of Sarah Phillimore, Co-Founder of Fair Cop.
Mr Paisley highlighted that the group posted ‘We #SayYesToHate’ in response to events commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance and linked to a tweet by the MP which stated: ‘I’ve just donated to this crowdfunder #FreeSpeechMatters’. Mr Paisley was asked to cover £2,000 in legal fees and a £500 donation to a charity of the MP’s choosing. A second letter asked that he retract the tweet and publish an apology. Mr Paisley has also been subject to complaints to his employer which have been dismissed as baseless.
Scottish PEN holds that reasonable questions should be asked of elected representatives when in the public interest, without fear of legal action. We find these threats to be disproportionate and deeply troubling. While defamation law serves to protect against unjust harm to reputation, it should not be used by those in positions of power as a means of silencing fair comment or criticism. This approach risks creating a chilling effect on broader attempts to hold power to account.
‘Receiving threats of legal action had a really profound impact on me, especially when it comes from someone in a position of influence and power. Financially I wouldn’t have been able to defend myself and would risk bankruptcy and losing my home. That’s quite terrifying when you work in an insecure profession like the arts, especially given complaints were made to my employer and I now worry about future employment.
My mental health was quite badly impacted, and I’ve had to reach out for support, the stress and anxiety caused by unfounded accusations and the threat to my livelihood left me struggling to cope.
I’m lucky I have a good support network and I was able to seek legal help to defend myself, many people are less able to do so and it’s not right that those with power, influence and privilege are able to use threats of legal action as a way to silence those asking legitimate questions. I support Scottish PEN’s campaign to reform defamation laws to make them fairer and more equitable for all’.David Paisley
A survey from Scottish PEN and the University of Strathclyde is seeking to establish the impact that Scottish defamation law has on writers, publishers and social media users. Share your views here.