Libel laws rightly offer redress for those falsely accused, but they are being used by wealthy men to silence women

Despite the various calls to reform the UK libel law to prevent “libel tourism” and prevent vexatious allegations designed to quash debate and freedom of expression, the door is open for wealthy men to use a range of legal mechanisms (such as superinjunctions and non-disclosure orders) as an effective way to shut women up.

Imagine the following scenario: a woman is raped, and reports this to police, as well as disclosing to mutual friends. When the case is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), it is decided that there is not enough evidence to bring charges, perhaps due to the culture of disbelief within the criminal justice system, or to avoid prosecuting what are considered to be “difficult cases”. The victim is subsequently issued with a terrifying threat of libel from the rapist. There is no legal aid to defend a libel action, and she has no money. She endures the hell of a trial, facing the man who raped her. If she loses, which she may well be in financial ruin – bearing in mind the prejudicial attitudes and belief systems around women’s culpability, and the disproportionate media coverage about false allegations – and will have to pay not only the massive legal fees, but also substantive damages to her rapist.

Related: Rape prosecutions plummet despite rise in police reports

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