Victory in sight for Hardeep Singh in libel tourism battle

Freelance journalist Hardeep Singh today won a major breakthrough in his libel-tourism battle against Indian religious sect leader His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj.

Singh – who is being represented by Carter Ruck on a no win, no fee deal – won an order that Maharaj pay into court the sum of £250,000 as security of costs before a planned Court of Appeal hearing due to take place in March.

If the £250,000 is not forthcoming within the next two weeks, the appeal fail and Singh will have won. But he still faces the prospect of a legal fight which could drag on for years as he seeks to recover six-figure costs from Maharaj.

The original libel claim stems from an article Singh wrote for The Sikh Times in August 2007 which, according to the writ, suggested Maharaj was the leader of a cult and an imposter.

In May this year, Mr Justice Eady threw out the case but the Court of Appeal was due to hear a challenge to his ruling next month.

Up until late last year, when Carter Ruck took the case on a CFA deal, Singh had been bearing the financial cost of defending the action. Maharaj is not suing Sikh Times, which published an apology to him back in 2007.

Next month the Coalition Government is set to introduce a Libel Reform Bill which could tackle the issue of libel tourism.

After the hearing Singh said: ‘His Holiness’ to pay £250,000 into Court as a precondition for the Appeal to continue and I sincerely hope that this marks the end of my five year ordeal at the hands of a foreign national, His Holiness.

“Incredibly though His Holiness was not legally represented at the hearing this morning, with his lawyers providing notification yesterday afternoon that they were applying to come off the record. It seems that the minute His Holiness has been required to make any financial commitment to these proceedings, he has decided to simply throw in the towel.

“This behaviour, is demonstrative of how our libel laws have become the plaything of rich foreign nationals who know full well that the inherent threat of financial ruin can be used to intimidate and stifle the rights of individuals to speak freely on matters of public interest

“I look forward to a robust draft bill from Lord McNally in March, trusting that it will take absolute measures to prevent libel tourism by wealthy foreign nationals, safeguarding free speech in Britain and protecting journalists, NGO’s and Scientists from the chill of libel.”

“The irony of the situation though is that even now, with the Appeal looking very much over, I have the stark prospect of seeking to recover my costs in India, which may take another 6-7 years of my life.

‘This will add more to the already huge expense of fighting this case, all for my freedom of speech, for writing something in the public interest about someone who’s actions are wholly inconsistent with true Sikh values.”

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