Sally Morgan, the stage "psychic", is bringing a libel claim.
This was announced on Friday by Atkins Thomson, a London law firm experienced in media law matters. Given this experience, one must presume that her decision to bring a claim has not been made lightly, and that she is fully aware the reputational damage that can result from a misconceived libel claim.
The lawyers' statement is not very informative:
"Sally Morgan instructs Atkins Thomson to commence libel action in relation [to] various articles in the press."
Indeed, so vague is this statement one would perhaps need their client's uncanny abilities to know what it actually means.
First of all, it does not say that any claim has actually been issued. It does not even say that any formal "letters before action" have been sent. We could even still be at preliminary stage, without there having been any correspondence yet at all.
Second, it does not say who the defendants will be. Will Morgan be suing just one media organization? Or many? Will she even adopt the illiberal tactic of threatening the individual journalists? (This was the approach followed by the now discredited British Chiropractic Association in their claim against Simon Singh.)
And, third, it does not state what the supposed libels are. Morgan makes considerable amounts of money out of her audiences believing that she talks with dead people. However, it cannot be defamatory to say that Morgan does no such thing.
Accordingly, any supposed libel is likely to be in regard of how she gives the impression to how she converses with spirits. Is she merely deluded? Does she have the means in place to mislead her audiences? And if she is misleading her audiences, is she doing so with any wrongful - or even dishonest - motive?
The current state of English libel law is that all Morgan has to do to bring a claim is to show a defamatory statement was published by a defendant in England and Wales. She will not have to prove any loss or damage, and she does not even have to show that statements are false (if statements of fact) or malicious (if expressions of opinion).
Once the claim is made, the burden shifts to the defendant, often with terrifying costs implications. It is for the defendant to prove that any factual statements are true (for example, that Morgan does not have any real psychic ability and uses wrongful practices to give that impression) rather than for the claimant to prove the converse (for example, that she really does talk with dead people and that she does not use any wrongful practices to give this impression). As for expressions of opinion, it is for the defendant to show that they are fair and honest, based on the material available.
In a libel case such as one which Morgan may bring (though it must be emphasised we do not know yet what libel claim she is threatening), a possible scenario is that the defendants may have to prove to the court she is not a psychic and that she does use wrongful practices, rather than that Morgan proving that she is a psychic and that she does nothing dubious at all.
That said, of course, the spectacle of any "psychic" being cross-examined at the High Court by any competent barrister - let alone the forensic savages of the specialist libel bar - would be something not to be missed.
So all we know so far is that Sally Morgan is threatening a libel claim; that much is certain, and - not being mind-readers - we must be careful about what at this stage we do not know.
But this does rather promise to be an interesting one.
There is a statement on Morgan's official Facebook page:
"On behalf of Sally Morgan we would like to confirm that Sally Morgan has instructed Graham Atkins of Atkins Thomson to commence libel action in relation to press allegations that she is a cheat, following her show in Dublin. Thank you for your support and patience in this matter. Sally Morgan Management Team."
+++ I have now posted a further update on this case here.+++
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