"Barmy": Alarm raised over £750k legal threat that could force MSP out of office

Controversial firm threatens Green MSP with defamation costs with risk of bankruptcy

A LEGAL SCANDAL HAS ERUPTED between Scotland’s leading advocate of land justice and a conservation company, which is threatening him with legal action and eye watering costs. 

Andy Wightman MSP today revealed the details of the legal threats raised against him on behalf of Wildcat Haven Enterprises (WHE) CIC. Wightman has been a prolific campaigner on land reform, producing research which has consistently challenged the claims of the wealthy landowning classes. He is the author of ‘Who Owns Scotland’ and ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’.

Scots defamation law, unreformed compared to rules in England, has been used by the wealthy and corporations to demand retractions from cash strapped media groups. 

“Free expression in Scotland is done a dangerous disservice by the out-dated and inadequate defamation laws”. Scottish PEN

Wightman set out the factual details of the legal case in a piece entitled ‘Defamation’, which sets out a timeline of legal correspondence, the “losses” estimated by Burness Paull LLP, which is acting on behalf of WFE, and the risk that he would be declared bankrupt and subsequently forced out of the Scottish Parliament if found liable. 

He added: “Burness Paull LLP has also issued a legal letter on behalf of WHE to the Scottish Green Party intimating that it will also be conjoined in an action for allegedly communicating the defamation via a hyperlink on its website.”

Following its release, friends and supporters of Wightman rallied to his side online - offering to provide financial support if required in any future action. Others called for wider political solidarity. 

A Scottish Green spokesperson told CommonSpace: “We support Andy's position and believe the situation highlights the need for reform of Scotland's defamation law.”

Jonathan Mitchell QC, a senior Scottish legal expert across four decades, poured scorn on the Wightman legal threats. Commenting on the details provided by Wightman, he said that the available information showed no “proper legal basis” with it raising a scandal of “the use of threats of litigation to shutup responsible journalism”. He added that legal letters towards the Scottish Greens were “barmy”. 

Burness Paull LLP was contacted for comment by CommonSpace, but had not provided comment by time of publication. Burness Paull’s website states that it has “over 480 staff” and has worked on “over £100bn of deals in more than 60 jurisdictions” this year.

The legal threats, for which WHE has not yet followed through to a summons, has also led to a strongly worded intervention from Scottish PEN, which champions free expression.

The campaigning organisation said the case makes it apparent that “free expression in Scotland is done a dangerous disservice by the out-dated and inadequate defamation laws”. 

The group added: “This case facing Andy Wightman MSP is yet another reminder that Scotland, with its rich history of free expression and activism, deserves more than our existing laws, and we call for reform that brings defamation laws into the 21st century.” 

Read more - Nik Williams explains why Scotland's defamation laws work in favour of the few instead of the many 

The case adds weight for defamation reform legislation to follow English and Welsh libel reform in the Defamation Act 2013. The Scottish Law Commission is gathering evidence before making recommendations to the Scottish Government on the issue this year.

Picture courtesy of Simon Varwell/Benny

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