Winter Bird Feeding

The snow has finally arrived here in Scotland and our thoughts turn to the welfare of the birds that decided not to fly south. Feeding birds in winter is both rewarding and enjoyable.

In winter the temperatures drop and the natural food supply dries up. You can now expect to see more of your garden birds at a well stocked table. As well as food, they need fresh, unfrozen water for drinking and bathing.  They need fatty foods such as fat balls as well as seeds. Also why not leave some hedges and ivy for shelter.  Plant berry bearing trees such as hawthorne and rowan and you may be lucky enough to see waxwings and other winter migrants.

Blue tit

To attract the greatest number of species in the winter, it is important to have a number of different bird feeders available. The feeders you use during the winter should have several characteristics in common.

Your bird table should be covered so seed does not get buried during snowfalls or blown away in storms. The cover should extend several inches over the edge of the table to ensure protection from all but the most serious storms.

Ideally, winter bird feeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of the wind. Placing feeders closer to the house will be effective and will help keep the birds visible for indoor birdwatching.

Most birds that visit gardens in snowy weather feed on seeds, since insects and fruit are harder to find naturally during the winter. The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide abundant energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include:

Sunflower seed
Peanuts
Thistle seed
Peanut butter
White millet seed
When choosing birdseed and other foods for winter feeding, take into consideration which bird species are present in the winter and what foods they prefer to avoid excess wasted seed.

Meal worms are also appreciated by most garden birds, especially robins and blackbirds.  Fat balls  are a great energy boost and tend to be made of lard/suet, nuts, cereals and sunflower seeds, so are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds.  Tits love fat balls as do  sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and black caps.

Often neglected, is household food waste, which can often be a great wildlife boost.  Soft fruits,  uncooked porridge oats, grated cheese, cooked pasta and rice, soaked currants, raisins and sultanas, biscuit crumbs and pastry crumbs are all great foods to feed to birds with in the winter.  Finely chopped unsalted bacon, and fats from other unsalted meats are all fine.  Potatoes, mashed, baked or roasted are also welcomed by birds.  Anything salted should be avoided on your bird table, as should any margarine or soft fats. Never offer food which is moldy or rancid. Remember that food scraps should always be placed on a bird-table as sprinkling on the ground can attract rats

Final bit of advice.  Once you start feeding birds, please continue to feed them throughout the winter, as they will come to rely on your offerings.

Jarndyce v Jarndyce

Dave Carpenter, Condé Nast Collection
Dave Carpenter, Condé Nast Collection

Some of my readers will be aware of a civil case for defamation that is proceeding slowly through the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Pursuer – Wildcat Haven Enterprises (WHE)

Defender Andy Wightman MSP

Neither I nor any organisation linked to me has any legal interest in the case – though because it involves one of the many good causes to which Highland Titles has given money, it is certainly a matter of some personal interest.  In a nutshell, Mr Wightman has been accused by WHE of making stuff up and maliciously publishing it so as to cause massive damage to WHE.  Mr Wightman has said, in so many words, that perhaps he did, but he is a very important person and everyone loves him, so you can hardly blame him for having a bit of fun at the wildcat’s expense.  Besides, everyone was laughing and he just couldn’t help himself. Or,  in the more precise words of his lawyers, he claims that his comments were “fair comment on matters of public interest, and/or covered by qualified privilege”.  Interestingly he is NOT claiming that the nasty things he said were true (veritas), only that for some reason he should have been allowed to say what he said and WHE just has to suck it up and put up with being damaged.  Good luck with that…..  However, I don’t need to take sides because at some stage Mr W will have to stop prevaricating and go into court to face justice.  Then everyone will know the truth.

Para 7 of Mr Wightman's "Form of letter of request" addressed to me.
Para 7 of Mr Wightman’s “Form of letter of request” addressed to me.

So, you might ask, why have I written this blog post?  Well out of the blue, Mr Wightman’s expensive Edinburgh lawyers, Gillespie MacAndrew LLP, have demanded that I answer a series of questions. Whilst I am not involved with the case I have no objection to answering questions. But in the spirit of open justice, I thought that as well as swearing a formal affidavit, I would publish my answers here for all to read – just for anyone else who wanted to know but did not have the cash to pay expensive lawyers to do the asking.

QUESTIONS posed by Gillespie MacAndrew LLP

  1. i) the nature and content of contracts or dispositions entered into or granted by the pursuer with or to “buyers” of such plots of land;

Highland Titles print and ship all the documents on behalf of WHE, so I am able to answer that.  All customers are sent a rather grand disposition on parchment – setting out who they are, who is selling the land (WHE) and which bit of land they have bought.  For £30 Mr Wightman -or you – can get your very own copy posted to you in a sumptuous gift pack ready for Christmas.  Frankly they don’t need to ask me. They need to prise open their wallets, visit www.wildcathaven.com and make a loved one a very special gift this Christmas.

  1. ii) the location(s) of plots of land ’’sold” or being offered for sale by the pursuer;
Map showing land gifted to WHE in August 2015.

Paul and Emily O’Donoghue and Helen McGregor and myself met with Duncan Thompson (a partner in the firm of J & H Mitchell, Solicitors) at his offices in Pitlochry on Wednesday July 8th, 2015 to confirm that we could gift a parcel of land to WHE without any consideration (i.e. free, gratis and for nothing – zilch, zippo, nothing coming back). He confirmed that we could do that and so a few weeks later we selected an area well away from the few plots we had already offered for sale to Highland Titles customers and instructed J & H Mitchell to convey 4Ha from our Mountainview nature reserve in Glen Loyne to WHE as a gift Gift of land
Paitna Green Wildcat Haven_106794
.

iii)           the numbers of plots ’’sold’’ by the pursuer and the prices obtained by the pursuer in respect thereof;

This is actually a question for WHE. Highland Titles print and assemble all packs for WHE, and then ship them, entirely at our own expense. We also provide free customer support. We know that following Mr Wightman’s first blog the numbers of packs we were shipping took a nosedive.  Doubtless WHE have provided precise details to Gillespie MacAndrew LLP.

  1. iv) the use to which moneys obtained by the pursuer in selling or purporting to sell such plots has been put;

Not Known.  Again this is not a sensible question to ask me.  All funds raised by WHE were taken directly by them and clearly applied to the work of Wildcat Haven. Certainly no money has come my way (or to any other organisation or person on my behalf) , nor should it. WHE is charitable in its objects and with Highland Titles covering most of the outgoings, the income derived from the sale of plots was able to fund the excellent work done by Wildcat Haven. We donate many tens of thousands of pounds annually to a wide range of charities and good causes mainly in Scotland (but a few in Alderney), from Rotary to Trees for Life. 

  1. v) the timing, nature and content of any communications, contract or other arrangement with Highland Titles Ltd and/or Highland Titles Charitable Trust regarding the ”sale” of such plots and the use of the proceeds thereof;

There has never been any form of communication, contract or other arrangement between Wildcat Haven or Wildcat Haven Enterprises – or anyone associated with any wildcat related organisation and myself, Highland Titles, the Highland Titles Charitable Trust for Scotland or anyone I know or have ever known or their children or any organisation any of them have ever been involved with – regarding the ”sale” of such plots and the use of the proceeds thereof.  Mr W seems to not understand the nature of charity. You give without wanting any return except that good things, like saving the Scottish Wildcat, can happen. 

As stated above HT prepares and ships all orders entirely at its own expense. This is not a contractual obligation, but we have verbally offered to do it for the forseeable future.  Neither the Trust, HT, myself or anyone else has an arrangement in place to recover any expenses from any source. Packs are prepared and shipped completely Pro Bono.  

  1. vi) the ownership of the land from which the said plots were ”sold’’, and the reason(s) (other than referable to the sale of individual plots) for any change in such ownership; and

The land sold is owned by WHE. It was gifted to them by HT in July 2015.

vii)         the nature of any offices held by Mr Douglas Wilson with the pursuer and/or Highland Titles Ltd and/or Highland Titles Charitable Trust, and the periods during which such offices were held by him.

Early in the life of WHE (09664321 – Incorporated on 30 June 2015), Douglas Wilson served as a director of both WHE and Highland Titles and as a trustee of the Highland Titles Charitable Trust for Scotland. However HT planned not only to give WHE land but money too. Because there was a potential conflict of interest, Douglas decided to resign from these positions, which he did as soon as we were able to find suitable replacements. He stepped down as a Trustee of the HTCTS on July 6, 2015 and as a Director of Highland Titles on August 21, 2015. He is a sad loss to the Highland Titles operation as he is an Scottish entrepreneur and businessman with a passion for Scotland and wildlife coupled with experience and competence that would make him a huge asset to any organisation.  Our loss is the Scottish Wildcat’s gain. 

Christmas 2017


Christmas has always been a great time of year for me. My wife and younger daughter have Christmas birthdays, so we have always made a great deal of this holiday season. Hogmanay too. So I am delighted to run an organisation that is dedicated to helping everyone give something special to someone they love – particularly at Christmas.

The giftware trades always pull out all the stops at Christmas and some businesses are only profitable because of the holiday boost. We take on extra staff and everyone works overtime to make sure that all those gifts are packed and posted in time for Santa to deliver them.

This year Highland Titles have taken the decision to “Christmassify” our web site with some holly and snow and Christmas trees. We had fun doing it and we hope you all have fun ordering your Christmas gifts. Remember – order early to avoid disappointment.  Last posting dates are for guidance only. Once we give your order to the Post Office it is really “out of our hands”.

And for everyone who thought you would order your Gathering tickets later, once you found the time – you sadly missed the boat.  As I write, we have two double tickets left to sell and then its all over until 2019.  For everyone who ordered early – I look forward to meeting you next May in Glencoe.

Happy Christmas

Veganism

Let me start by stating that I am an unlikely vegan and not a particularly good vegan. So any ethical vegans; feel free to criticise me and I will not defend myself.  It is true. I am a bad vegan.

As a teenager my loves were chemistry and biology, in that order. But as I approached university, I realised I lacked the maths skills for a career in chemistry. Also a work placement as an analyst put me into the way of professional chemists, who advised me to take any career path other than the one they had chosen.  So I spent three years at Queen Mary, University of London following a degree course in Zoology and Comparative Physiology and a further few years at what is now Royal Holloway, University of London studying for my doctorate in a small, old fashioned Department of Zoology.  During that time, I was elected a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, an honour I retain, and I held a Home Office licence which enabled me to conduct small animal surgery under anaesthesia.  Not very vegan.  I also loved meat and all things meaty.

After 13 years in the pharmaceutical industry and five years back in academia in New York I bought a small farm, where I spent five years as an ethical farmer, rearing sheep, pigs, cows, goats and chickens, all with names. From time to time I took one into the barn, killed it, butchered it and ate it.  The children asked not “what is for dinner tonight”, but “who is for dinner tonight”.  All any of us can hope for is a good life and a good death. My animals enjoyed both.

But now I no longer rear animals and I cannot say how they live and die. So I have stopped eating them. I have to report that not eating animals was one of my better decisions and i cannot help but recommend it to all my friends and everyone else as well.

However I am a bad vegan. I put milk in my tea and put butter on my bread. There: I admitted it. Oh and I sometimes even wear leather shoes.  I don’t think I could manage without a splash of Alderney milk in my tea.  Nothing else tastes the same. And on Alderney, the local farmer makes the most wonderful butter from the cream he skims off his skimmed milk.  It is rich and golden and hard as nails. The cows look happy and eat grass in the summer and silage in the winter. The calves are not slaughtered for veal, but have a good life as bullocks until the time comes for them to make the very short journey to the Alderney slaughterhouse.  I feel no need to eat them myself, but it does not seem too bad a life.

A few minutes spent online will catalogue some of the horrors of factory farming. The unimaginable cruelties suffered by some pigs and chickens in particular. The barbaric ritual methods of slaughter practised by some whose lives are still ruled by stone age superstitions. The environmental problems caused by slurry and factory fish farms. I do not need to repeat them here – the information is there for all to see.

My message today is simple. If you eat meat 7 days a week, try to cook without exploiting any animal products on at least one of those days. You will find that a meal can be just as satisfying, just as full of flavour – certainly more interesting than meat and two veg. Again, just go online and search for vegan recipes – or vegetarian if you want a halfway house. If you go out for a meal – try a vegan restaurant if you can find one. My favourite treat when I pass through Edinburgh is a meal at Hendersons.   If you end up somewhere else that caters primarily for carnivores, take a close look at the vegetarian/vegan options. Push your boundaries. Be brave. You never know, you just might like it!

 

Memorial Benches

 

Highland Titles has always recognised the importance of our nature reserves, not just to the benefits to wildlife and the wider community, but to the quality of life of individual visitors , and the impact that these special places can have on them.

A memorial bench is a means of connecting people with their favourite location, place, or viewpoint. We also benefit from being able to provide a place to rest whilst touring the reserve and we therefore fully support memorial benches on our sites.

Thus it was that in late 2013 we began to evaluate suitable benches and after visiting several manufacturers we decided to offer the 5ft (1.6metre) Athol bench manufactured in pressure treated redwood by Scottish Prison Service (SPS) Industries.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is an agency of the Scottish Government and the manufacture of timber products is part of their duty to provide rehabilitation services to Scottish prisoners.

Their principal objective is to contribute to making Scotland Safer by Protecting the Public and Reducing Reoffending. The SPS aims to achieve this by ensuring delivery of secure custody, safe and ordered prisons, decent standards of care and opportunities for prisoners to develop in a way that help them reintegrate into the community on release.

We believe that this is a laudable aim and The Athol Bench is a quality product which is manufactured from sustainably grown timber and which with some care will last for many years.

Twitter Abuse

I have been the victim of twitter abuse, and I have reported this fact both to Fort William police and the Scottish Parliament. Some of the abusers are known and some have wisely sought to stay anonymous. However this may not save them from legal consequences.

Yesterday, Alison Saunders, head of the CPS announced that Hate Crime would be a new priority and I welcome that.

Prosecutors will be ordered to treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face in plans announced by the director of public prosecutions. Alison Saunders said the Crown Prosecution Service will seek stiffer penalties for abuse on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions on hate crime

Published on Aug 21, 2017

The CPS describe Hate Crime as including “verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying” motivated by hostility (There is no legal definition of hostility so the CPS use the everyday understanding of the word which includes ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike).  The law in Scotland is different, but harassment is still harassment, even north of the border.

According to the Herald, “Wings Over Scotland” blogger, Stuart Campbell, was recently arrested. The Herald further reports “Police said the arrest was on suspicion of harassment and malicious communications”. Stuart Campbell reports on his website that none of the tweets were in any way threatening, but as I learned when I visited Fort William police, a campaign of harassment need not be threatening, merely unwanted and unwelcome.

I note with interest that Andy Wightman MSP, who has blogged and tweeted about me and Highland Titles for over two years, appears to have taken a break from using his twitter account. Recently one of the more agressive web sites, which has targeted me and Highland Titles since 2011, was deleted. I welcome this progress. The future will be a better place if the internet is no longer used as a vehicle for the dissemination of lies and harassment.

 

Stinky Mink

Mink were brought to the UK from America between the wars to be bred for their fur. Inevitably many escaped or were released by fur farmers following local opposition and a general decline in popularity of the fur trade. Soon a feral population was established, mostly dark brown with a white patch near the chin. These have continued to breed and thrive in many localities, including along the rivers and coast of West Scotland.

American Mink (Mustela vison)

Mink are mainly nocturnal and as a result are not often seen. But the damage that they are causing along the west coast is serious. One of the reasons for their success is that they frequently switch between prey, concentrating on whatever is abundant in any season or locality. Also they kill far more prey than they need to eat and because their prey has not co-evolved with them it often has no natural defence.

In some areas seabirds are the main victims. In built up areas it may be domestic fowl. But on many river systems the main victim has been the benign water vole.

Water voles are the largest species of British vole. They are also sometimes commonly known as the water rat because of a superficial similarity in appearance and habits to the brown rat.

Water voles have glossy brown or black fur and a blunt muzzle with small, black eyes. Their ears are almost hidden (unlike the ears of the brown rat), and they have slightly furry feet and tail. They are mostly active during the day, sitting on their hind feet and feeding on vegetation held in their front paws. When disturbed, they dive into the water with a characteristic ‘plop’ sound. When they swim, their head and back are visible.

Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)

When threatened by mink, their natural escape mechanism is to enter the water and dive. However the mink simply follow them. Their next defence is to retreat into their burrows, but the smaller female and juvenile mink simply follow them and kill them.  A single mink feeding pups can exterminate water voles in a small river system.

Water voles have undergone one of the most serious declines of any British wild mammal during recent year. The post war intensification of agriculture caused the loss and degradation of habitat, but the most rapid period of decline was during the last decades of the 20th century as American mink spread. During the 90s, the population fell by almost 90 per cent.

Clearly if future generations are to hear a water vole “plop”, we need to eradicate mink and do something to mitigate environment loss and degradation as well as, where possible,  re-create and maintain suitable habitats. Landowners must be encouraged or forced to assist their survival with the support of the statutory and voluntary nature conservation agencies. Everyone needs to play their part.

 

 

Glencoe – the Trademark

When Highland Titles purchased Keil Hill in 2007, with the intention of creating a nature reserve that would become a popular tourist attraction, we sought to create a valuable brand which would require our protection. We settled on the name “Glencoe Wood” as the name of the woodland north of the Salachan burn. Our supporters were encouraged to adopt the style of Laird of Glencoe Wood, or Laird of Glencoe for short and we trademarked this name to protect it from being used by our business rivals.

In investing time and money in registering our trademarks, we have acted more cautiously than most other businesses in the Glencoe area, such as Glencoe Mountain, Glencoe Activities and Discover Glencoe, who have failed to register their trademarks.  But we are no different to several other business owners who have chosen to protect their “Glencoe” based branding. An example would be the Nevis Distillery, who own the Glencoe trademark in respect of their Glencoe malt whisky and the English clothing firm, Glenmuir Limited in respect of clothing sold under the “Glencoe” brand.

Over the last ten years we have invested heavily in the Glencoe area and created a popular tourist attraction which brings 10,000 visitors to the area every year and rising. Our visitors stay in local hotels and B&Bs, they drink in local pubs, shop in local shops, eat in local cafe’s and use other local facilities whilst here. Ultimately, like other local attractions, we bring money into the local economy which creates local jobs and supports other local businesses. We have investment plans but this of course depends upon us being able to protect our brand. Every business needs brand security which is the reason that the trademark office exists.

Which leads us to the 2015 registration of the name “Glencoe” by the National Trust for Scotland, Scotland’s largest conservation charity.  With this “dog in the manger”  trademark registration they intend to decide who does or does not get to use that word in their business branding. This appears to us to be disproportionate and unhelpful, particularly to the local region. Should Glencoe Mountain become “Rannoch Moor Mountain”, Glencoe Activities become “Ballachulish Activities” and Glencoe Wood have to be renamed “Salachan Burn Wood”? And what will our local marketing group, “Discover Glencoe” become?

We have not sought to disadvantage or threaten any business in the area and the same cannot unfortunately be said for the NTS, who appear not to like competition from a privately funded organisation. They have threatened our volunteers and threatened us. Now it appears that they do not like any organisation who dares to use “Glencoe” in their branding simply because the NTS are a major local landowner and they are not afraid to squander their members’ membership fees on Edinburgh lawyers. As Lord Lyon knows only too well, a legal letter scares most organisations into submission, and they only have out of date medieval laws to back up their threats. We eventually adopted the Arkell vs Pressdram response to successfully get Lord Lyon off our backs (it certainly cheered me up). We encourage Hillcrest to take a similar firm line with NTS. 

Which brings us to the threat of legal action made to Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing, a small Scottish business which has been employing Scots on Scottish Deeside for nearly 40 years. They have been selling their Glencoe Jacket for most of that time as can be proved by archived website copy on the “Internet Archive”. Their right to use the Glencoe brand for clothing predates the National Trust’s trademark application, showing it to be a legal sham.                                                                                                      
The lawyers’  letter states “Only goods and services with geographical links to Glencoe can use the name to protect the local community’s trade interests.”  However Highland Titles condemns the Trust’s bullying attempt to own the Glencoe brand and we feel that businesses with geographical links to the Glencoe region, should be left to protect their intellectual property themselves. The local Glencoe community does not need corporate bully boys offering protection with threats and menaces should we fail to kowtow to them.

A Square Foot of Old Scotland: Ownership of Souvenir Plots

Highland Titles has from the first day of trading made sure that we comply with the law in all regards. My wife is a barrister and latterly in her career at the bar, a senior Crown Prosecutor. Before we commenced selling our square feet, we consulted our family solicitor in Aberfeldy. When he retired, our new solicitor in Pitlochry confirmed that we fully complied with Scots law and provided us with a general letter to confirm that this was the case because some agents and vendors required written confirmation.

In 2012 a new Land Registration act was passed, prompting the Registers of Scotland to confirm that with the passing of the Register of Sasines, no legal avenue remained for recording the sale of souvenir plots. We revised our advice accordingly, to make clearer that a souvenir plot purchased from Highland Titles could not be registered unless the law changed.

In 2015, we received considerable free advice from lawyers and academics, active on Twitter. Some helpful and some mischievous (but all good publicity). Our Guernsey solicitors, advised us to seek counsel’s opinion on the scant Registrar’s advice – which took the form of a definitive written advice from an eminent Scots QC.  The advice confirmed what our Scottish solicitors had previously advised, but with a considerably larger price tag!

We also took advantage of the Advertising Standards Authority’s Copy Advice Team‘s review service. They reviewed our non-broadcast advertising (our web site) and confirmed that we complied fully with their CAP code.

Then, onto the playing field came Jill Robbie and Malcolm Combe, academics from the University of Glasgow and Aberdeen respectively. They had kindly taken time out to study our business model and clearly saw the inherent problems caused by the Registers of Scotland’s lack of capacity to deal with the sale of souvenir plots.  In their paper, published in the Edinburgh Law Review, they begin:

After setting out the problems caused by the lack of capacity in the Registers of Scotland (which I see more as an opportunity – our customers generally have no wish to pay the Scottish Government to register their plots when they are registered by Highland Titles for free)  they go on to put the case for reform, commencing with the question “The online debate encourages reflection on whether there is continuing justification for the prohibition on registration of souvenir plots.

They point out the problem caused by the ongoing lack of resources at the Registers of Scotland, a position which they suggest will not change at least in the next ten years. They write that an argument against registering small plots is that once land has been broken up into small units in multiple ownership, resale becomes difficult. They argue that the “sterilisation of land should not be encouraged”. However I believe that putting parcels of land beyond development has great value when it comes to conservation land.

Finally they argue that the lack of a real right to an asset of low economic value such as a £30 souvenir plot might not be of significant concern, and this really is the nub of the issue. The Scottish government, either deliberately or accidentally, has enabled Highland Titles to sell souvenir plots of land without any requirement – indeed without the option – of paying to locate these plots on the Scottish cadastral map, with all the associated costs that would obtain.

Thank you Jill Robbie and Malcolm Combe for your kind review of the law surrounding Highland Titles and souvenir plot sales in general. Should you like to have a free square foot for your troubles, please let me know.

Defamation update – Scottish PEN

Regular readers will be aware in my interest in the subject of defamation, fueled in part because I have been subjected to it from time to time in recent years.  A group called Scottish PEN, who include members of Scotland’s literary community, are currently lobbying to “Ensure reputations can be protected in a manner available to everyone, not solely the rich and powerful” and that is certainly something I could get behind. Unfortunately some of their other objectives are positively unhelpful, but it seemed interesting that they are looking at the issue as part of a UK campaign to reform defamation law.

From the ScottishPEN website:

The overall aim of the campaign is to update and reform defamation law so that it:
1) Accurately reflects the modern media landscape, offering effective protection for freedom of expression
2) Ensures reputations can be protected in a manner available to everyone, not solely the rich and powerful
3) Provides safeguards for individuals from companies or those with powerful interests seeking to silence reasonable criticism and comment

They go on to state:

Specific points we see as essential to the reformed law include:

  • The inclusion of a serious harm test that discourages trivial claims that can chill free expression and inundate Scottish courts with ‘vanity’ cases;
  • The creation of a statutory public interest defence that protects the publication of information that benefits public debate and informs civil society across Scotland;
  • Restricting corporate and public bodies suing for defamation. Corporate bodies do not have a private life, personal identity or psychological integrity. In the spirit of a law to protect citizens and the rights of citizen critics, corporate bodies and associations should be restricted in their ability to sue for defamation;
  • A single publication rule to replace the multiple publication rule, which currently counts every hit on a website as a new publication of the material on it and therefore a potential fresh cause of defamation action. A single publication rule best reflects communication in the digital age;
  • Defamation law to be brought up to date for the digital age. The law as it stands makes internet service providers (ISPs), forum hosts and similar entities liable for material published by them/on them. The law should ask claimants to approach authors of material before ISPs become liable for it, to prevent ISPs being forced to take material down in the face of defamation threats.

It seems unclear to me how any of the specific points act to enable Aim 2. My thoughts on this are that a small claims court should be available for the use of those simply wishing to set the record straight when defamed and where only modest costs and damages would obtain.  If somebody on Facebook makes a malicious and false assertion, then they should be called into this hypothetical small claims court and asked to prove it. Failure would require that they retract the assertion and perhaps cover the costs and modest damage award.

More worrying is the suggestion that corporate bodies should be denied the right to act. Whilst it is true that “Corporate bodies do not have a private life, personal identity or psychological integrity” they can certainly suffer damage.  For example, if a well known MSP recklessly blogged that one of the big supermarkets added pork to its range of halal beefburgers, they could suffer massive financial damage. The MSP may well have had the best of intentions sharing this information “in the public interest”.  But if he failed to check his facts, should he not be held to account? Why should the innocent supermarket be left holding the bill for damage?

Of course there should be a serious harm test. “Vanity” cases, if they occur, are mischievous and a waste of the court time.  But a public interest defence is simply muddle-headed. It cannot help public debate to add fake news to the mix. If the facts are wrong, if the publication contains malicious falsehoods, they help nobody. If true, then the publication cannot be defamatory.

The single publication rule does NOT reflect the modern age. This suggestion is wrong. A newspaper, published today, is a chip wrapper tomorrow.  A blog or a facebook post is published afresh every time it is hit. It is there in Google for ever, being republished every time somebody runs a search.

How sad, that a campaign which might have been able to influence the long overdue reform of Scottish defamation law, which is too expensive to be used by anyone unless they have deep pockets or pro-bono lawyers has failed to suggest anything genuinely useful and indeed to make some suggestions which would help to permit the powerful and nasty to carry on defaming the weak and poor.

The Scottish Law Commission’s project on reform of defamation law is approaching its final stages.

News: Scottish Law Commission published Defamation Law Consultation