Something unamusing: Joseph Weiler on trial

Author: Alexander Stack Professional Corporation |


Joseph Weiler - who, long time ago, was one of my favourite professors at NYU - has stood trial in France for criminal libel "because, as editor-in-chief of the European Jouranl of International Law (EJIL), he refused to remove a book review from an EJIL-affiliated website that the book's author claimed is defamatory."

The offensive (to the author) book review is HERE.

More on this HERE, HERE and HERE.

Frankly, while the book review is certainly negative in tone, I am shaking my head at the publisher of the Journal being sued for criminal libel. I suppose Joseph Weiler did commission the review, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe it is anything other than an honestly negative review.

This case is cast as a challenge to academic freedom, but I'm not sure that's exactly right. This seems to be more of an attack on public criticism, period. I'm not sure what the "academic" aspect adds: what if this was a movie review? A review of the last Maple Leafs game? Something is wrong when public criticism is chilled.

In any case, Professor Weiler's editorial in his own defence, linked to above, goes through his thinking in erudite detail.

One interesting - or distasteful, depending upon your point of view - aspect is the shadow of forum-shopping and the Internet. The review is available on-line (my impression is that it is only available online, and wasn't in the printed journal). As Professor Weiler writes: "The author of the book was an Israeli academic. The book was in English. The publisher was Dutch. The reviewer was a distinguished German professor. The review was published on a New York website." So why is he in France?

One answer is that the author of the book is a French national. living in Israel.

My guess is that its because under the French system, the criminal complaint having been made, it goes to trial - period. Apparently the first chance to get it dismissed is at the trial itself - and there is no compensation in fees for the defendants' legal expenses. (there is also the question of whether it is a plaintiff-friendly forum in terms of substantive law, but I really can't comment on that).

Interestingly, Weiler asked the Court to rule on the substantive issues, even if it finds that it does not have jurisdiction - he'd like a ruling in favour of negative book reviews and their hapless publishers in any case ;)

Anyway, the verdict is scheduled to be released on March 3. Hopefully the Court will punt this into the Seine.

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