Outcome: Andy Wightman MSP Defamation Action

Find out the outcome of the defamation action brought against Scottish PEN member, Andy Wightman MSP

March 11, 2020

Scottish PEN member and a Scottish Green MSP, Andy Wightman has been defending a £750,000 defamation action for blog posts and social media content published prior to his election to Scottish Parliament. Throughout this process, Scottish PEN has been monitoring and supporting this process as part of our work campaigning to reform defamation law. The court hearings finished at the tail end of 2019 and today Lord Clark of the Court of Session has published his judgement on the case.

Andy won!

We are delighted to hear that Andy has successfully defended the defamation action brought against him by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC. His success was based on the judge’s ruling that the words complained of did not hold a defamatory meaning, as well as other words complained of being protected by the fair comment defence.

The full judgement can be read here

While we are delighted with the outcome, this case demonstrates the need for meaningful and robust reform of the defamation laws in Scotland. Nowhere is this more apparent than the need for a statutory public interest defence to replace the Reynolds Privilege to ensure everyone, irrespective of industry, background or experience, can share information in the public interest to strengthen public accountability, scrutiny and transparency. It is worth reiterating that if Andy was unsuccessful and the full damages of £750,000 were awarded to the pursuer, Andy would have had to declare bankruptcy and potentially vacate his position in Parliament.

Congratulations to Andy, his legal team and supporters across Scotland and beyond. Hopefully we can learn from this case to improve our laws to protect everyone who speaks out and speaks up. There is no better time to act, this Friday the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s call for evidence on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill closes, so there is still time for people to have their voices heard calling for modern and bold new laws that protect free expression for all.

Here is a statement from Andy Wightman MSP:

I’m delighted with this judgement from Lord Clark. I would like to thank my legal team of Campbell Deane and Roddy Dunlop QC for their support, diligence and hard work over the past three years. I’d also like to thank my family and colleagues at work for their support and understanding over this period.

I want to pay particular thanks to the thousands of people who generously contributed to my crowdfunder, without whom I would simply have been unable to defend myself. I have been hugely encouraged by their ongoing support.

The National Union of Journalists and Scottish PEN have also been very supportive as part of their wider campaign for defamation reform. I have maintained throughout that I did not defame the pursuer and that this action should never have been brought against me.

It is vital that Parliament modernises the law of defamation to ensure that the law provides the right balance between freedom of expression and the rights of people not to have their reputations tarnished. It is also important that the law is clear, so that writers and journalists can write confidently and provide the freedom of expression that is so important in any democracy.

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee is currently calling for evidence for its scrutiny of the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. This call closes this Friday (13th March) and is an important moment for everyone to have their voices heard.

For a template letter you can send to the Justice Committee: https://scottishpen.org/defamationscot-tell-the-justice-committee-to-bring-forward-reform/