High Court: Slander is Okay If You Say It in Courtroom

Want to slander someone without being sued? Say it in the courtroom and you will get off scot-free, according to High Court ruling.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu,

Slander and libel: cartoon from MIT
Slander and libel: cartoon from MIT
Israel news photo: MIT

A 2-1 decision in the High Court allows slander in the courtroom, former Globes and Haaretz editor Mati Golan reported in Globes. Golan, a widely respected journalist, said that the judges mean "the courtroom is territory above the law, like the Wild West.”

The case involved two lawyers, one of whom said in court that the other was about to be indicted and be suspended as an attorney. The story was a lie, and the offended lawyer sued for libel. Justice Eliezer Dantziger and Eliezer Rivlin ruled that since the libel was stated in a courtroom, it was not subject to the laws against slander.

Golan noted that the meaning of the ruling is that “if you want to slander someone without paying the price, you can deceive and lie as much as you want so long as it is in the courtroom.” Words of slander in a public place “usually tend to grow wings,” Golan added. “Media can publicize it all because it was said in a courtroom, and people react to it on the assumption that 'there is no smoke without fire' and the damage is done.”

Justice Elaykim Rubenstein, who wears a kippa, dissented from justices Rivlin and Dantziger. ”Can someone defame to become a scoundrel with the permission of the Torah?” he asked in his dissenting opinion.

Golan, who is fiercely secular, added that judges consider their rulings to be sacred and now have allowed libel “with the permission of secular law.” He added that judges like to consider themselves as “sitting among the people,” and that if this is so, the ruling allowing libel in the courtroom means “they are sitting among people of braggarts.”

He said that if the judges really were among the people, they would realize that the escalating violence in society also has a verbal aspect.