Contact us on

020 7611 4848

email us


Arrange a Callback

Ask a Question

Amanda Knox Publishers Take Fright Over UK Libel Laws

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Following the murder of British student Meredith Kercher and the subsequent high profile court case of American student Amanda Knox, publishers offered Knox a reported £2.5m book deal for her side of the story.

Given the level of public intrigue in the case, they knew her story would sell but perhaps did not immediately anticipate the risks they could face in offering the book for sale in the UK market.

Publication of ‘Waiting to be Heard’

In her book ‘Waiting to be Heard’, Knox gives a frank account of the events surrounding her arrest, trial and the four years she spent in an Italian prison.

The book was published this month in America, Canada and Australia, but publication in the UK has been halted due to legal concerns that the book may infringe the UK’s strict libel laws.

Knox is facing re-trial of her case in Italian courts and her publishers are concerned about potential libel actions from Italian police and prosecutors.

UK Libel Fears – An On-going Saga

Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time a publisher has refused to print in the UK for fear of libel action, which raises serious questions about the strength of freedom of expression in the UK and the effectiveness of recent libel law reforms.

Publishers are scared for good reason; the UK’s libel laws are famously tough on the defaming party. For instance, in the UK we have a rare reversal of the burden of proof for libel cases: those accused of libel are effectively seen as guilty by the courts until they can prove their innocence.

In addition, the ‘public interest’ defence for publication is not strong under UK law and the permitted publication of ‘fair comment’ is also relatively restrictive.

Financial Considerations in Libel Cases

Then there are the financial considerations: damages under libel laws are not capped. Whilst this may be appealing to a claimant suing a publisher for libel, it means publishers have a difficult job trying to assess the risk of publication of sensitive or controversial material. The cost of defending a libel claim is also not limited and trials can be lengthy and expensive for those involved.

Given the legal difficulties in defending libel claims and the potentially unlimited financial consequences, it is easy to see why publishers such as HarperCollins UK who are involved with the Knox book take the commercial decision not to risk publication here in the UK.

Libel Law Reforms

After years of campaigning from lobby groups for changes to libel law in the UK, recent reforms have yet to take full effect but many argue that the changes do not do enough to address the fears of publishers.

Publishers trying to assess the risks of publication, or those who believe their rights have been infringed through publication of material about them should seek specialist legal advice. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.