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MLDI to distribute Richardson libel ruling worldwide

A judge’s ruling that Charles Richardson should not have been charged with criminal libel will be circulated to media defence lawyers around the world by a charity which got involved in his case.

The UK-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) said it welcomed Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley’s finding that the summary offence of unlawful defamation contravened a person’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Defence lawyer Mr Richardson was charged with the crime in January in relation to comments he posted on his Facebook page about Detective Inspector Robert Cardwell.

But he will not have to stand trial after successfully challenging the prosecution by asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the charge is unconstitutional. His lawyer Craig Attridge and the MLDI made written submissions to the judge, along with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which conceded that the charge interfered with Mr Richardson’s constitutional rights, and the Attorney General.

Peter Noorlander, legal director of MLDI, said yesterday: “I certainly welcome the judgement. It acknowledges that Bermuda’s criminal libel statute as is violates the right to freedom of expression as protected in Bermuda’s Constitution, as well as under the very similarly worded provision of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It sends a very strong signal that criminal libel laws should be used sparingly, and only to respond to the most serious libels published with knowledge of falsity. This is a high threshold to overcome which will ensure that the provision is unlikely to be used in practice.”

Mr Noorlander said he was sure the judgement would be influential in other cases globally.

“We will be circulating the judgement to our international network of media defence lawyers, some of which are involved in similar challenges.

“In Uganda, for example, a challenge to the constitutionality of criminal libel is before the Supreme Court.”

Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz said last night the whole case was an “unfortunate sideshow compared to the very real problems Bermuda faces”.

The One Bermuda Alliance MP said: “In my view, the prosecution for criminal libel was overdoing it. However, Mr Richardson should never have written what he wrote and which the judge stated appeared to be both unfair and wrong and he should have made a full apology to DI Cardwell at a much earlier stage and avoided all this nonsense.

“At least Mr Richardson’s lawyer Mr Attridge now seems to have given a roundabout apology on his behalf.”

Mr Richardson, 40, made the Facebook comments after the detective led an investigation into him and police raided his home.

The lawyer subsequently admitted possession of cannabis and cannabis resin and received a conditional discharge in Magistrates’ Court, which was later replaced with a conviction and fine at his request.

His online remarks in May 2010 questioned why Det Insp Cardwell took an interest in the case and queried the officer’s character in relation to the investigation.

Mr Attridge said after the judgement: “Mr Richardson acknowledges that some opinions, no matter how honestly they may be held, are sometimes better left unsaid.”

Mr Moniz said: “The magistrate in the original prosecution for drug possession saw fit to give Mr Richardson a mere slap on the wrist, for which he should thank his very good fortune; many others did not have this privilege.”

He said he hoped Bermuda Bar Council’s professional conduct committee would deal promptly with a complaint made about the remarks by Det Insp Cardwell, who is also considering a civil libel suit.

“The whole episode reflects poorly on the Bar,” said Mr Moniz, adding it was unusual that the Bar Council did not reprimand Mr Richardson for the drug possession conviction.

The Opposition politician said the judge’s ruling on the relevant section of the Criminal Code did not set a binding precedent on the use of criminal libel “in any way shape or form”.

“It would have to go to the Court of Appeal to set a binding precedent. This is exactly the sort of thing the Law Reform Commission would be dealing with if it was operating and effective. So far as I know it is not.”

Attorney General Michael Scott has not responded to requests for comment on the judgement, the cost to taxpayers of the whole case or on whether the Law Reform Commission is operational yet.

The Office of the DPP has not responded to questions about its decision to prosecute Mr Richardson for unlawful defamation. A Bermuda Police Service spokesman said: “We have no comment on this matter.”

It wasn’t possible to reach Bar Council president Delroy Duncan yesterday.

Useful website: www.mediadefence.org.

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Published August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 16, 2011 at 9:26 am)

MLDI to distribute Richardson libel ruling worldwide

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