Why Iain Dale is wrong about Phil Woolas and libel

Iain Dale has posed the question why Elwyn Watkins, the Liberal Democrat candidate up against Phil Woolas, didn’t sue for libel instead of looking to have his election result over-turned:

To my mind, the way these kind of disputes should be resolved is not to take them to ‘election courts’, but instead through the libel courts. It’s interesting that the LibDem candidate didn’t go down that route. I wonder why not.

I think the answer is very simple. Imagine he had sued for libel and won. Then what? He’d have got a libel payout (nice), Phil Woolas’s reputation would have been damaged (good) but – crucially – Phil Woolas would still have been the MP and would have continued to be the MP for years to come.

That is the limitation with sueing for libel: the only punishment available to the courts is the level of payout. Yet not everything can be put right by cash.

Put it the other way round: imagine if a candidate had said, ‘It’s outrageous. The victor lied about me. But I’ll be happy if he stays in office as long as I get some cash’. Wouldn’t sound too flattering of the losing candidate’s attitude would it?

Nick Thonrsby, by the way, has a good response to the other points in Iain Dale’s post.


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