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Should politicians pay a penalty when they knowingly lie?

In England, using a law that has not been used in 99 years, an election court has ruled that a member of parliament knowingly made false statements about an opponent in the election held last May. If upheld, he could be removed from his seat and prevented from running for office for three years. The opponent, who brought the rare lawsuit, said

This is a historic victory, the first time in 99 years. I fought this because I believed it was really important for democracy. The idea that if you lie about your opponent and you know you have lied about your opponent then simply you have no part to play in democracy. I am proud of the judicious system which has helped me so much in this situation. I think this is going to be a crucial decision which will help clean up politics. Politics has to be better than this. Making up lies about your opponent has no part in politics.

Opponent of the ruling claim that it will have a chilling effect on political speech.

Personally, I’d love to see a similar law in the US, and see it vigorously enforced.



  1. Michael wrote:

    Oh, if only. Let’s keep in mind that Martha Stewart served 5 months in prison for telling a lie–not insider trading. Marion Jones was sentenced to 6 months for lying.

    If it is a felony to lie to an official, it should be a felony for an official to lie.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Steve wrote:

    Seems to go against the Bill of Rights 1688 Article 9, although considering how close the election was, this is a great test case. This will surely be challenged up to their new Supreme Court.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  3. patriotsgt wrote:

    Unfortunately, lying is not illegal (false claim to military medal case). It’s unethical, but protected free speech. Thats the criminal side, but their could be civil consequences. What say the lawyers in this crowd?

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  4. ebdoug wrote:

    Currently we have a Democratic House and Senate. Aren’t they supposed to work? Between now and the end of the year, what is stop them from rescinding “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? I mean it is only logical that if we had a draft, anyone who wanted out of the Services only needs to say “I’m gay”. Can’t have two rules.
    And extend the tax cuts for the middle class and allow the tax cuts to the rich expire.
    Are we not paying them to work?

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  5. Sammy wrote:

    How is lying about a political opponent for personal gain not considered libel?

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  6. starluna wrote:

    There are federal criminal statutes against lying to federal officials during a crime investigation. It’s a common form of getting a conviction when the evidence for the “real” crime is not strong enough. It is also not unusual for federal prosecutors to use it as leverage to get “cooperating” witnesses. Some states have similar laws.

    On the civil side, you can sue for libel or slander. Under US common law, however, these accusations generally do not apply to public officials or public figures unless they can also prove malice. This means that, in addition to showing that something said/written was untrue and caused harm, you have to prove malice. Malice generally means that the liar acted in reckless disregard of the facts known to him/her and with the intent of doing harm. It’s a pretty high bar. These suits are more common than you would expect, given the difficulty in proving harm and malice. Most of the time it’s about getting publicity or getting to a settlement.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  7. Maslab wrote:

    “Unfortunately, lying is not illegal (false claim to military medal case).”

    Perjury. Lying is very much illegal.

    I would love to see a law like this in the U.S.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  8. Dan wrote:

    There are already advertising standards, to protect consumers against significant and blatant fraud. If there is a reason to regulate speech in that case, it’s not a huge leap to defend political adverts as well.

    An article on FactCheck (don’t have URL, sorry) points out that some states have such laws already. Enforcing them is difficult, because proving intent is difficult.

    Otherwise you have a potential problem similar to the chilling effect that libel laws in the UK has.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  9. patriotsgt wrote:

    MASLAB – Yes, perjury which implies testimony given under oath would be illegal. However, telling a fat lady she’s not fat to save you from getting hit in the head is not illegal. Nor are brokenn promises, except if you commit adultery and are in the military.
    I agree, perhaps we should establish some type of consequence for lying, breaking promises like marriage vows or political promises. Really giv the lawyers something to sink their teeth into.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  10. Dan wrote:

    Well, it’s not just perjury… Breaking a contract will get you into civil court.

    It’s interesting that Congress does have code of conduct, but unlike many other professions (such as scientists), the code does not cover “misrepresentation”.

    I wonder if that’s intentional.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  11. BTN wrote:

    The way our litigation system works, a law such as this may do more harm than good: court cases are expensive, and it woul djust give more power to those with the resources to file or defend against such a lawsuit.

    Also, most cases would likely end up with settlements with no party admitting guilt, much like 99% of the cases agaisnt Big Business.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  12. A BURTON wrote:


    Friday, July 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink