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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Lords give boost to 'libel tourists'
Mr Berezovsky's libel case is likely to be heard before the end of 2001
The UK's highest court, the House of Lords, has given Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky leave to bring a libel action against Forbes Magazine.

Legal experts say the ruling could make England the world's top destination for libel litigation.

The five Law Lords ruled by three to two that Mr Berezovsky and the Managing Director of Aeroflot, Nikolai Glouchkov, had reputations to protect in England and that English courts had jurisdiction, even though the American magazine's circulation in the UK is small.

It's a shot in the arm for libel tourism

Solicitor for Forbes, David Hooper
The Law Lords noted that many people would have read the article on the internet, lifting readership of the December 1996 issue in England and Wales well beyond the 2,000 copies that were sold there.

The article alleged that Mr Berezovsky and Mr Glouchkov were criminals "on an outrageous scale". An editorial said that Mr Berezovsky had left behind him "a trail of corpses, uncollectable debts, and competitors terrified for their lives".

'User-friendly' libel law

Lord Steyn noted that Mr Berezovsky, one of Russia's richest and most powerful businessmen, was introduced on the magazine's contents page with the words: "Is he the Godfather of the Kremlin? Power, Politics, Murder. Boris Berezovsky can teach the guys in Sicily a thing or two."

Boris Berezovsky: truth or falsity of allegations will be determined
Lord Hoffman argued that English courts should not hear the case, warning that there was a danger of them becoming "international policemen".

"My Lords, I would not deny that in some respects an English court would be admirably suitable for this purpose," he said.

"But that does not mean we should always put ourselves forward as the most appropriate forum in which any foreign publisher who has distributed copies in this country, or whose publications have been downloaded here from the internet, can be required to answer the complaint of any public figure with an international reputation, however little the dispute has to do with England."

Other legal experts spoke of the possibility of businessmen and celebrities beating a path to the Royal Courts of Justice to exploit England's "user-friendly" libel laws.

David Hooper of Biddle Solicitors, who represented Forbes, described the ruling as a "shot in the arm for libel tourism".

Ruling welcomed

"The case has nothing whatsoever to do with events in this country and concerned an American publisher with limited circulation here," he said.

I brought an action for libel in England in order to clear my name

Boris Berezovsky
"The implications are pretty horrendous, because nowadays everything gets published everywhere. When an article is downloaded, it's published in this country, even if it is prepared in the US in accordance with US law."

In a statement through Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners, Mr Berezovsky welcomed the decision: "I brought an action for libel in England in order to clear my name before a court where the truth or falsity of the allegations will be determined," he said.

In the first ruling on the case by a British judge, in October 1997, Mr Justice Popplewell ruled that Mr Berezovsky's and Mr Glouchkov's links with England were tenuous, and that the case should be heard in a Russian court.

Mr Hooper said Forbes would appeal against the Law Lords' ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that it inhibited freedom of speech.

But he said the libel trial would be heard first, most likely before the end of 2001.

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28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
12 Sep 98 | Europe
Berezovsky talks to the BBC
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