Thursday, May 26, 2016

Old and relevant

A month ago in Ireland there was a bit of puzzlement when the High Court refused to allow a legal action by James Boyle against Denis O'Brien and the Irish state, concerning the award of a mobile telecom license, to go ahead. The judge cited the legal principle of "champerty," dating back to a 1634 English law, which forbids third party financing of legal actions. The tone of the media coverage was that there's something odd about a case being derailed because of a seemingly arcane legal principle.

But there's nothing arcane about it. It's precisely the principle at work in the latest revelations about the Hulk Hogan versus Gawker case and the apparent financing of Hogan's legal fees by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. The legal system is not supposed to be a vehicle for third party vendettas, and despite its Blackadder-ish connotations, champerty is actually a well established doctrine in Anglophone legal systems. Gawker might not get anywhere with their appeal, but there is centuries of legal thought behind them.

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