A leading heart doctor who was sued for his criticisms of a medical device was in Belfast yesterday to back libel reform in Northern Ireland.
Peter Wilmshurst, who lost tens of thousands of pounds personally in the legal action, attended a seminar at the MAC centre in favour of overhauling the Province’s defamation law.
The event, organised by the Libel Reform Campaign, was attended by writers, journalists, academics, lawyers and human rights advocates.
The reformers fear that the failure to introduce in Northern Ireland legislation similar to the Defamation Act 2013, which was adopted in England and Wales in January, has a chilling effect on academic and scientific discussion.
The manufacturer of a cardiac device sued Dr Wilmshurst for defamation in England after he expressed concern in America about the safety of the device. The action ended when the manufacturer went into liquidation in 2011 but Dr Wilmshurst never recovered all his costs.
Despite the time and money he spent in the defamation battle, Dr Wilmshurst says that the “real cost” was to patients who had the “devices put into them during the four years of my case”.
Asked why he flew to Belfast yesterday, Dr Wilmshurst told the News Letter: “To protect the right of people to raise concerns about matters of public interest.”
Supporters of reform say that the previous libel laws in England and Wales, and existing ones in Northern Ireland, threaten scientific criticism.
Ex Finance Minister Sammy Wilson blocked libel reform in Northern Ireland. His successor, Simon Hamilton, referred the matter to the Northern Ireland Law Commission for consultation after Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt introduced a private member’s bill for reform at Stormont.