Defamation claim against MSP condemned as campaigners call for urgent reform
A £750,000 defamation claim against Green MSP Andy Wightman has been condemned by freedom of speech campaigners.
A business that offered “fun” titles for a cost of £30 accused Mr Wightman of damaging its reputation online before he was elected to the Parliament last year.
The company, Wildcat Haven, is seeking “substantial compensation” from the Green MSP, a leading land reform campaigner.
Mr Wightman has the support of Scottish Pen, which is campaigning alongside The Herald for reform of the defamation laws.
A spokesman for the organisation told The Herald: “Scottish Pen condemns the action brought against Andy Wightman and calls for reform to adequately protect free expression and public interest reporting.
“Free expression in Scotland is done a dangerous disservice by the outdated and inadequate defamation laws that are currently in place.
“Nowhere is this more apparent than in the claim made against Mr Wightman for his public interest reporting made as an independent advocate for land reform in Scotland.
“While many facts remain unpublished due to the severity of the threat against Mr Wightman, what is known demonstrates the need for a more robust public interest defence that can ensure issues of importance for communities across Scotland cannot be stifled by entities trying to avoid public scrutiny.”
Mr Wightman has said he cannot afford the payments demanded by the company and that if he were to lose it would mean bankruptcy and disqualification as an MSP.
The MSP said last night: “The significance of today’s date is that, were these allegations to be made against me under English law, I would now be free since a pursuer has one year in which to raise an action.”
In a statement of support for Mr Wightman, Scottish Pen added: “Public interest protections as they currently stand are far too narrow to defend the multitude of individuals and organisations who can inform the public of key issues including journalists, campaigners, scientists, bloggers and community activists.
“This narrowness breeds uncertainty and any defence that is uncertain will chill public interest discussions because many publishers would rather settle claims out of court or avoid publication than face the legal uncertainty of mounting a complex and unpredictable defence.
“While defamation laws are vital to protect the reputation and private lives of people from all backgrounds, this cannot come at the expense of free expression and the ability to inform the public and hold the powerful to account.”