Defamation: Vlad Impaled
Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Justice Committee was the scene for an interesting round-table session on defamation, following last year’s publication by the Scottish Law Commission of a report and draft bill on the subject. Drawing on their expertise and experience, the invited panel presented a rich and colourful array of examples to illustrate various aspects of defamation.
Gavin Sutter from Queen Mary University of London observed:
“In the defamation context, I think that we need to be very careful that the law guards against those who would abuse anonymity to further a deliberate defamation, as distinct from somebody using a pseudonym because they do not want the kids they teach to google them and find them in Rocky Horror costume, as a wild example.”
He went on to recount that
“about 20 years ago, a descendent of Vlad Țepeș attempted to sue Francis Ford Coppola because he had made a connection between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.”
In the context of the internet, the convener, Margaret Mitchell, remarked:
“I think that it was Mark Twain who said that a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth gets its shoes on.”
Later in the week, the Social Security Committee engaged in a wide-ranging discussion with two panels of witnesses on passported benefits, which are benefits that people are entitled to because they receive some other benefit. Examples are free school meals, blue badges, the Motability scheme and concessionary travel.
Michelle Ballantyne raised the issue of the stigma associated with free school meals, which
“work really well at primary level, but, when we get to secondary level, a lot of the youngsters go down the street. They do not want to be isolated or alienated.”
Later in the discussion, Hanna McCulloch of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland identified
“an opportunity to make accessing the passported benefits feed a person into the wider system of information and advice.”
Flaring at Mossmorran
In leading Thursday’s members’ business debate on flaring incidents at the Mossmorran petrochemical plant in Fife, Alex Rowley set out the impact on his constituency in vivid, Dickensian terms:
“Last June, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I was in shock as I saw thick black smoke belch from the top of a stack and form a massive black cloud that sat over the top of the houses in Lochgelly, Glencraig, Crosshill, Lochore and Ballingry.”
In describing the flaring’s ominous presence, he related an evocative literary allusion to “Lord of the Rings”:
“I do not know how many members have witnessed the flare of Mossmorran. At night time, the pulsating orange glow illuminates the surrounding towns … I was told by someone driving past the plant during a flaring incident that they felt as if they were driving past Mordor.”
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