Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weiler Wins!

I am glad to report that Prof. Joseph Weiler has prevailed in the lawsuit brought against him in a French court. I discussed this case in a post some time ago. Had Weiler lost, the verdict would have struck a serious blow against academic freedom everywhere. Fortunately, the French court recognized the suit's lack of merit (although it dismissed the case on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction):

In the ruling, the court said the review expressed a scientific opinion of the book and did not go beyond the kind of criticism to which all authors of intellectual work subject themselves when they publish. It agreed with Mr. Weiler's contention that the case did not properly fall within its jurisdiction anyway. It concluded that Ms. Calvo-Goller had engaged in forum shopping and had shown bad faith in bringing the complaint. It said it was ordering the plaintiff to pay the €8,000 to Mr. Weiler in reparation for the harm caused by the improper nature of her action.

Mr. Weiler has now posted an account of the ruling on his journal's blog, EJIL: Talk! Earlier, in a January 25 post, he described the legal strategy he and his lawyers used. They considered the action "an egregious instance of 'forum shopping'" or "libel tourism," he wrote. "It was important to challenge this hugely dangerous attack on academic freedom and liberty of expression," he said. "Reversing custom, we specifically asked the court not to examine our jurisdictional challenge as a preliminary matter but to join it to the case on the merits so that it would have the possibility to pronounce on both issues."


Jeremy Kargon said...

I can't help but think that, even from my layperson's perspective, the issue of jurisdiction is not merely "technical." Instead, it lies beneath the proliferation of the growing number of "libel tourism" cases which we see in the UK, for instance, or the essentially trivializing "war crimes" cases against so many political figures of countries both naughty and nice.

The possibility of law's enforcement depends upon, ultimately, the social use of force; but the control of that force depends on a specifically-defined social contract unique to a each political environment, protean as that may be. "Jurisdiction" makes clear the contour of a political body's boundaries *and* its accountability. Countries which have unilaterally opened their courts to cases from beyond their organic legal boundaries have invited both burden and irrelevance, if real enforcement is not a real option. I can't help but worry about the expanded irrelevance of any country's courts, let alone France's.

Either way -- whew, what a nudnikit!

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Art--the court dismissed the case, but it did award costs to Weiler. Without being an expert in French law, I can't say whether that is a big deal, but it does, at least, suggest that the court took seriously the idea that Calvo-Goller's libel tourism is illegitimate.

I'm with those who think that Karin Calvo-Goller has done far more damage to her reputation by filing this criminal complaint than the initial review did (if it did anything at all; I've had mixed reviews and it didn't do my ego much, if any, damage). Moreover, her husband, Michel Calvo, has been out and about the Interwebs hinting darkly that what was out in public was only a tiny bit of the truth, and that when all was out, his spouse would be vindicated. It seems to me that she'd have more legitimate grounds to sue her spouse for damage to her reputation than she had to sue Weiler.

I would be curious to see a comment from someone like Maître Éolas that addressed the French notion that "atteinte à la réputation d'une personne" is just as heinous as a physical assault on a person. If I wanted to portray myself as a victim, I could say that I've been the victim of both, one evening walking to the métro in the 15e when a young man decided to pick a fight with me because I had walked too close to him on the sidewalk (he said I had bumped him), and I seemed to be "franco-français" (deeply ironic!). But he was a kid, it was late at night, he apologized once he heard me speak and realized I was more of an étranger than him.

Heaven help us if it had come to the tribunal de grande instance de Paris!

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Yes, you're both right. The declaration of lack of jurisdiction was an important issue. I shouldn't have called it a technicality. And the award of damages was also significant. Sorry, I wrote carelessly.