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April 5, 2017

Our bullying legislation

It’s in the nature of the activity that most bullying occurs when no one is around to witness it. However some laws in this country seem almost designed to encourage it  –  if your pockets are deep enough. The law of defamation is an example. The mere threat of having to defend a libel action in court, and, win or lose, pay the ruinously high legal costs is enough to make most people proffer grovelling out-of-court apologies. Andy Wightman is clearly made of sterner stuff but nonetheless may need some help with his costs.


The National, Martin Hannan

SCOTTISH Green Party MSP Andy Wightman last night confirmed he has been told by lawyers that he is to be sued for defamation with £750,000 damages sought.

The National can reveal the claims relate to posts on his popular personal blog, and the MSP and author – a long-term campaigner on land and property issues – has stated that he will fight the case “to the utmost.”

Supporters of Dundee-born Wightman have also taken to social media to claim the MSP is the victim of “intimidation.”

It is understood the Lothians List MSP has received a legal letter informing him of a possible future summons regarding the claimed defamation. More than one party has joined in the action against Wightman, which was issued by one of Scotland’s largest legal firms.

He said last night: “I will not be publishing any details of this case until the summons is served.”

For legal reasons, The National has chosen not to name the parties making the claim against Wightman, who was elected to Holyrood in May and who previously made his name as a campaigner on issues such as owners preventing land reform.

Wightman graduated from Aberdeen University in 1985 with a degree in forestry, and he co-founded the Reforesting Scotland group. After working with the Central Scotland Countryside Trust he spent 23 years as a researcher and writer on issues ranging from Common Good land to local democracy before being elected to Parliament.

It is as a constant proponent of land reform that he is most renowned, and there is no doubt he has attracted opprobrium from the rich and powerful in recent years.

A politician being sued for defamation is very rare in Scotland and the MSP – whose salary is £58,077 a year – would almost certainly face bankruptcy and instant disqualification from the Scottish Parliament if the action was to succeed, as personal insolvency is a bar on being a member and he owns no land or property.

The National understands the items complained about were published many months ago, and that no interdict or interim interdict to prevent the publication was sought.

The figure of £750,000 in damages being sought would also be a record for the Scottish courts should the verdict go fully against Wightman.

The former Scottish Socialist Party politician Tommy Sheridan won £200,000 in his defamation case against the now-defunct News of the World, but that figure was awarded to him by a jury.

Judges in the Court of Session and sheriffs in the lower courts tend to award much lesser sums.

In Scots law, defamation whether written or spoken has to be both false and lower the standing of the defamed person in “the estimation of right-thinking persons in society”. Defences against defamation, which is entirely a civil and not criminal matter, include veritas – the truth – as well as fair comment under freedom of speech rights.

Despite the historically low level of damages awarded by the courts, media outlets often settle out of court due to the sheer cost of defending a case.

The Scottish Law Commission is currently carrying out a review of Scotland’s defamation laws, following major reforms in England three years ago.

Andy Wightman told The National last night: “I have been informed that instructions have been given to issue a summons against me for alleged defamation in relation to material I have published on my personal blog. I have instructed my solicitor to reply saying that I will be defending this to the utmost.”