The Daily Mail has been forced to pay 'substantial' damages to a British Airways pilot over allegations he was being investigated after two air stewardesses had been given a date rape drug. 50 year old Captian Tony Pollock had complained about the article headlined 'BA pilot facing inquiry over date rape drug'. The story had suggested he was being investigated for involvement in administering the drug when in actual fact his only connection was that he had been cited as not having done enough in response to the stweardesses feeling unwell in the aftermath of the incident. An internal investigation had cleared him of any failing in his duty of care towards his fellow colleagues.
Aside from his grievance with the Mail, Pollock poured scorn on the English libel system - in particular the fact that legal aid is not avaialble to those wishing to bring a defamation action when they have been harmed by the publication of untrue or misleading facts.
Pollock has a valid point and one which needs addressing. Following the historically longest and highly publicised 'McLibel' case, the European Court found that in not making legal aid available to defendants in libel actions it had failed in its obligations under human rights legislation - judgment details HERE Press report HERE. This has been addressed but not in the coherent and satisfactory manner that is required, or the European Court may have intended. As the law stands if one is accused of libel then, subject to qualifying for the criteria and means test one can apply for legal aid to defend a libel action BUT where one is the person defamed one cannot correspondingly apply for legal aid to bring an action. This is wrong and absurd and the law will need to be reviewed and addressed to remedy this situation. To the extent that human rights law demands that ones should be able to defend oneself fairly in a court of law, it must logically provide for the corresponding right to bring and action.