Libel: Doctor stands up for freedom of speech

The Times reports: “A British doctor who is being sued for libel after criticising an American company’s research has pledged to turn the action into a test case for freedom of speech. Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, told The Times that he aims to use a public-interest defence to fight the claim from NMT Medical and establish the principle that scientists may engage freely in academic debate.”

Dr Wilmshurst is to be applauded for standing up for a very important principle. As he says – he could lose his house if the decision goes against him.

Dr Wilmshurst said: “I have got a responsibility to fight this. There is a fundamental principle of science at stake here. People have to be free to challenge research.”

There is growing concern about the use of England’s draconian libel laws to stifle expert scrutiny of scientific evidence. Simon Singh, the science writer, has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association over an article in which he questioned the evidence that spinal manipulation could treat childhood conditions such as asthma and colic.


The Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, is well aware of the pressing need to rein in the growing problem of libel tourism and the use of libel law to suppress fair, public comment and scrutiny.

Mark Lewis, Dr Wilmshurt’s solicitor said, “Libel law was having “not so much a chilling effect as a killing effect” on scientific debate, by making researchers think twice before challenging findings with which they disagreed.

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