Law journal vindicated in libel trial over book review

French court dismisses scholarly author's action against editor for negative notice, writes Paul Jump

March 10, 2011

A law academic has failed in her bid to have a journal editor prosecuted for publishing a negative review of one of her books.

Karine Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, objected to a review written by Thomas Weigend, dean of the University of Cologne law faculty, of her 2006 book The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court: ICTY and ICTR Precedents.

The review was published in 2007 on a website associated with the European Journal of International Law. It describes sections of Dr Calvo-Goller's book as "unproductive" and says she has an "insufficient" grasp of the inquisitorial system of justice.

Dr Calvo-Goller complained to the journal's editor-in-chief, Joseph Weiler, Joseph Straus professor of law at New York University. She said the review contained factual errors and could harm her professional reputation and promotion prospects.

But Professor Weiler refused to remove the review from the website, arguing that to have done so "would have seriously compromised academic freedom and the intellectual integrity of (the journal) and book reviewing generally".

In 2008, Dr Calvo-Goller launched a bid to have him prosecuted for criminal libel in France.

But in a judgment released last week, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris dismisses her case, saying - in Professor Weiler's translation - the review "does not contain words damaging her honour or her reputation" and does not "go beyond the limits of academic criticism: an essential element of academic freedom and freedom of expression".

The judgment criticises Dr Calvo-Goller for so-called libel tourism, in other words taking legal action in the jurisdiction where she felt she had greatest chance of success.

The judgment says Dr Calvo-Goller, who has dual French and Israeli citizenship, pursued the case in the French courts primarily for reasons of cost and because she was "of the view that only French law offered her a chance of success".

She has been ordered to pay Professor Weiler €8,000 (£6,900) in damages as a result of "the abusive character of her action", the ruling states. Professor Weiler said he would donate the money to charity, and hoped the judgment would bring an end to "this sad saga" - though he noted that Dr Calvo-Goller has a right of appeal.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, expressed delight at the ruling. "Libel laws are meant to protect the public from false and defamatory statements, but once they begin to blur the line between protection and freedom of speech, they become extremely dangerous," he said.

He said he looked forward to the publication of the UK government's defamation bill, expected later this month, which campaigners hope will offer more help to defendants accused of libel in British courts.

Last month, the publisher of the journal Energy and Environment, Bill Hughes, threatened to sue the RealClimate website for libel after one of its writers, Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, questioned the rigour of the journal's peer review for papers that followed the "political line" of its editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen.

"Libel is hard, and quite possibly foolish to ignore," Mr Hughes said. "I have little sympathy for people who unnecessarily bring on themselves burdens like libel costs."

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