Monday, October 12, 2009

Guardian Gagged Over Parliamentary Reporting

Well THIS is a rum do. Apparently The Guardian has been gagged from reporting Parliament. By whom? Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners. This is an astonishing development. If newspapers are prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings, you wonder where we're heading.

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

Guido, naturally, is being rather braver than The Guardian. However, The Guardian is appealing the gagging order. It's important for freedom of speech that they win.

UPDATE: It's apparently all to do with THIS story about a UK oil company and its activities in the Ivory Coast. I was also interested to read this analysis on Next Left...

To veer off at a tangent, for some reason, that short report reminded me that I was rather impressed by some more extensive reporting which the same David Leigh of the Guardian undertook over the oil company Trafigura's shocking oil spillage in the Ivory Coast, over which the company was widely report to have recently decided to offer a £30 million settlement to 31,000 people affected. I recall that it was an interesting story because of the way the newspaper worked closely with Newsnight

I found it offered considerably more for the reader to get one's teeth into than another Guardian report over Barclays tax affairs, where a gagging order led to several documents being removed from the internet, in theory and no doubt in practice too.

Meanwhile, Guido Fawkes is among those playing the favourite backbencher in Hansard game, flagging up a rather good question from Paul Farrelly MP, of Newcastle under Lyme, and a very good man, as I recall from briefly overlapping with him as colleagues at The Observer where he was City Editor prior to be elected to Parliament in 2001.

His guess, and your guess, are certainly as good as or better than mine. But barking randomly up various trees has its limits.

So I would be rather heavily in favour of The Guardian getting the provisions of the 1688 Bill of Rights back in place so we might also find out the news of what our Parliamentary representatives are discussing on our behalf.
on some excellent investigative digging.


Perhaps other bloggers might care to highlight this subject on their own blogs.

61 comments:

Silent Hunter said...

So; are Carter Ruck running the country now?

What kind of Government do we have when journalism can be gagged by their rich, lawyer friends to save them embarrassment?

Could we perhaps forget about the General Election and move straight to the armed uprising against the Corrupt Labour State and their equally corrupt Lawyers.

What a bunch of 'chumps'.

simon said...

Extraordinary, disturbing and quite wrong. I wonder if Justice Eadie is involved.

Nigel said...

>>The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret...<<

Wow.

Can the Speaker hold a High Court judge in contempt of Parliament ?

René said...

Come on, Iain, lets all be a bit braver...without spelling the story out so that even a Sun reader (or even a DM reader, for that matter!) could understand it all, there is enough information out there in the public domain already to enable a reasonable person to make an educated guess at what is going on
http://tinyurl.com/yjk8bsh

This story is nothing short of contempt of democracy, with Carter-Ruck taking the star turn in blocking the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings

Nigel said...

Apropos of nothing, is the Minton Report published anywhere online ?

Morus said...

Hands-up who had heard of Trafigura's court case before today? Now it is on Guido, Iain Dale, and every journalist in the world has an interest because of the Freedom of the Press concerns.

I assume Trafigura haven't heard of the Streisand Effect (Google it if unfamiliar) - I would have reckoned that Carter-Ruck probably have, but given the oodles of free advertising they'll be enjoying this week ("look, we just got our client the most absurd injunction in British legal history - aren't we brilliant?!") I don't reckon they'll mind the consequences too much...

Sandy Jamieson said...

Like many political types,I like to know what my member of Pariament gets up to. I routinely check how they voted, what questions they ask, what their expenses are etc.

So if I lived in say Newcastle-under-Lyme to take a constituency at random I would not be able to exercise my democratic rights

Anonymous said...

the end game is coming.
they win ,we loose.
we either accept it or fight.

demcoracey (not that we really had it ) is gone.

stalin said (to para phase):

"you remove freedom not by banning it but by removing it slice by slice "
the elite do what they want , we the plebs do nothing.

Jimmy said...

@ Nigel,

Just to be clear, if I were to say it was on (hypothetically) wikileaks, would that be a breach of the injunction? If so, then it's definitely not there.

Frugal Dougal said...

I had a look over at Giudo's site, but the cartoons over on hte right hand side left me cold and I clicked Stainesey away.

Bardirect said...

Surely this involves a point of order which ought to be raised immediately rather than waiting for the presumed questions, and a good test of Bercows ability and expertise in constitutional law.

Martin said...

Can't the Guardian just direct people to Guido's site?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

The Spectator has printed the question in full, as have many others.

This one has been won by the internet.



WV unram

Morus said...

Here's a prediction - #trafigura will join #carterruck as top trending hashtags on Twitter tomorrow...

Jimmy said...

The Barclay's injunction actually barred the grauniad from even mentioning that the documents were on wikileaks. That fact was divulged under parliamentary prvilege. Perhaps Carter Ruck is worried that this could happen again.

Legal note: I stress that this analogy is in no way intended to suggest that the Minford report to Trafigura is published on wikileaks.

Anonymous said...

search the guardian for "Danish Mohammed cartoons"

bullshitters!

Thatsnews said...

“Perhaps other bloggers might care to highlight this subject on their own blogs”

Happy to oblige, Iain!

http://thatsnews.blogspot.com/2009/10/guardian-barred-from-reporting.html

Helen said...

Hansard goes up on the Parliamentary website within three hours in an unedited version and edited by early the following morning. Order Papers are published ditto. Who needs the Grauniad or, for that matter, the Spectator?

And, incidentally, I agree with the comment about the Danish cartoons. Freedom of speech as long as one does not have to fight for it too much.

Anonymous said...

How to work out what is going on?

Here are the hints.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmordbk2/91013o02.htm

Contains a list of questions.

Looking at them all, I suspect Paul Farrelly is the relevant MP.

Then pick the topics and have a search on Wikileaks.

http://wikileaks.org/

Lord Bragard

Anonymous said...

The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

Anonymous said...

bet the greenpeace activists wish they had stayed on the roof

Anonymous said...

Minton Report, guys: http://wikileaks.org/leak/waterson-toxicwaste-ivorycoast-%C3%A92009.pdf

Gwenhwyfaer said...

Jimmy, as far as I know an injunction can only apply to the person(s) named in it. So, unless and until someone takes out an injunction against me, I can stick the link to the Minton report up on my own site, to save anyone having to poke around for it. (I won't post it here, just in case Mr Dale is feeling unduly enjoined.)

Anonymous said...

I,m finding it difficult to follow this story. Surely it means some fool of a judge has gone along with this nonsense? If so what is their name and why have not that totaly useless mob 'Liberty' got involved? Rather than prattle on about the HR of some scumbag murderer do something useful.

Pete-s

JuliaM said...

"search the guardian for "Danish Mohammed cartoons"..."

Good point. But in this case, the enemy of my enemy is NOT my ally.

So despite the Guardian's cravenness on the cartoons, they should still be supported over this. And I don't type that lightly!

David said...

What kind of Judges do we have that granted such an order even on an interim basis? Did they not cover the Bill of Rights in law school? Have they got too used to saying no to everything on demand?

genghiz the khan said...

Jackie Smith went into a newsagents in Redditch this morning. She took a long hard look a the headlines and blanched. Tne newsagent asked. “Do you want a Telegraph”?

Smith replied. “Er, no. I prefer The FT.”

JMB said...

Will they be trying to censor live coverage of the question being answered in Parliament? If not then can all the TV and radio news channels ensure that they go over to Westminster live to broadcast the question being answered to ensure maximum publicity.

DespairingLiberal said...

Extraordinary that a judge can make such an order. I know many of you don't agree with them, but it seems only right to point out that this could not happen if we had a constitution - in the US it would not have happened.

It is high time someone put Carter-Fuck firmly in their places. It isn't just about Private Eye - they have long been in the vanguard of something that affects all of us.

Well done to Iain and Guido for broadcasting this and let's all discuss it quite openly and in detail, thereby circumventing this outrageous court action on behalf of a corrupt, anti-democratic and way above it's pay-grade legal company.

DespairingLiberal said...

It would be good to know which judge granted this profoundly anti-democratic and anti-citizen gag order. Does anyone know?

Prodicus said...

It's a rare thing to find myself on the same side of the barricades as the moonbats.

penlan said...

Nigel-there was a famous 19th century case-the Sherrif of Middlesex case where the luckless official had the choice of enforcing a Court Order and be gaoled for contempt of Parliament or not enforcing the order and be gaoled for contempt of Court.The alternatives were Fleet or Marshalsea prisons.I believe he was put up in the governer's apartment until it was resolved.

I don't have the books before me but I think that case related to Stockdale v Hansard which held that reports of Parliamentary proceedings cannot be impeached.As a result,I cannot understand this business at all.

Trafigura Beheer BV said...

Trafigura isn't a UK company, it's Dutch.

norman said...

We have a supreme court and an unwritten constitution. Why can't Cameron promise a written constitution? We also need US style confirmation hearing of judges. But then our MPs with this claims are found to be unsuitable for this type of hearing, but for a judicial committee can be picked those with clean records.

astateofdenmark said...

Yes, spreading the word is the way to go. They can't injunct all of us.

http://astateofdenmark.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/wtf-carter-ruck/

Anonymous said...

Morus has it right. I'd never heard of any of this before today, and now I've not only read a somewhat technical (for me) report that I never would have ploughed through before, but I suspect that many others have done the same.

It's a travesty that C-R are able to get this injunction, and it sets a truly terrifying precedent, but it has achieved less than bugger all save aggravation in this case.

Trafigura who? said...

And I now hear that there is to be a protest outside the offices of Carter-Ruck on Thursday. I suspect that this protest could attract everyone from besuited libertarians to dreadlocked eco-hippies.

Ian H said...

As a leftish Liberal I thought I'd check a few of the leftish blogs for their take on this but apart from LibDem Voice and Rob Fenwick, gagging the press doesn't seem to interest them. Am I looking in the wrong place?

DespairingLiberal said...

It's on Wikipedia now....

Depressing that the BBC are not mentioning it at all today - if they were the victims of this, I feel sure they would find a way to leak it out. Their news editors sometimes seem to get confused about the difference between supporting rival media and defending the public's right to know and giving publicity to this direct attack by lawyers and one or more judges on Parliament.

bewick said...

Suggest you all do as I did. Emailed Carter Ruck (shouldn't that be an F?) saying "what an anti-democracy bunch of "chumps" you are"

Evan Price said...

I have to say that I believe that it is irresponsible to deliberately breach another's legal professional privilege - whether on the internet or through the use of Parliamentary privilege.

In this instance, a party to potential litigation should be able to rely on the confidentiality of the advice and reports that it seeks to inform it about its position in relation to litigation - whether current or prospective. As a result, whilst I think the injunction is too wide, I do not think it inappropriate for an injunction to be made.

JuliaM said...

"As a leftish Liberal I thought I'd check a few of the leftish blogs for their take on this but apart from LibDem Voice and Rob Fenwick, gagging the press doesn't seem to interest them. Am I looking in the wrong place?"

Yes. It's at Chick Yog, Ministry of Truth, NextLeft and Harry's Place.

Nick said...

A little harsh to accuse the Guardian of a lack of bravery, mind. They have an injunction against them; Staines doesn't. So he can mention the attempted gagging of the Minton report into Trafigura's dumping of toxic waste in Africa (and so can we), even though the Guardian isn't allowed to.

Dave Harris said...

Well Done for flagging this up Iain. Trafigura have been fighting tooth and nail to keep their activities in West Africa quiet, and the Guardian's headlines a couple of weeks ago were a vindication of that newspapers decision to fight them all the way.

As for this issue, since Hansard is bound by statute to report on ALL parliamentary proceedings, and is the epitome of material in the public domain, surely enjoining the Guardian from reporting HoC questions would be to enjoin them from quoting Hansard. This would appear to be a flagrant breach of parliamentary procedure, and should see both the plaintiff and Carter Ruck dragged kicking and screaming before the bar of the House.

Anonymous said...

Which judge passed down this gagging order?

Dave B said...

Andrew Neil has mentioned it on the Daily Politics with a warning that people should not go to well known political bloggers! Which I haven't!

Nigel said...

Thanks, penlan.

A little more digging turned up this from 'Constitutional and Administrative Law' by Hilaire Barnett:

".... Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 - section 1(provides that) ...the defendant may present to the court a certificate stating that the publication in question was made under the authority of the House... and that the 'judge or court shall thereupon immediately stay such civil or criminal proceeding'....

s2 ... similar protection exists for correct copies of official reports and authorised papers...

s3 ... provides that extracts or abstracts from such reports or papers, for example, in newspapers, are protected provided that such extracts are provided bona fide and without malice. Thus papers of the House, plus fair and accurate, but unauthorised, reports of proceedings are covered by qualified privilege, and an action for damages for injury allegedly caused by their publication would only lie if malice could be proven...

...While the passing of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 gives statutory authority to the publication of official papers and authorised reports, uncertainty still remains as to the scope of the protection ... "

Nigel said...

Evan,
Could you explain your point further ?
I'm not sure what confidentiality is at issue here.

The Minton report doesn't seem to have been prepared on behalf of either Carter Ruck or Trafigura.
And surely whoever might be representing Trafigura wouldn't be itself a matter of confidence here ?

Anonymous said...

DespairingLiberal said...

"It's depressing that the BBC are not mentioning it at all today."

Actually it was the lead story on the 'Daily Politics' show - with Andrew Neil helpfully warning people not to look at the political blogs in case there were the details there.

Anonymous said...

"As a leftish Liberal I thought I'd check a few of the leftish blogs for their take on this but apart from LibDem Voice and Rob Fenwick, gagging the press doesn't seem to interest them. Am I looking in the wrong place?"

Try here - some guy called Nick Clegg has been talking about it:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8304483.stm

JBW said...

Seems to me that we should all download the report then send a copy to
helen.burrluck@carter-ruck.com
just to let them know we are thinking of them.

JuliaM said...

Further to my comment at 11:37am, there's one left wing blog notable by the complete absense of any mention of this.

Step forward, Pickled Politics. Obviously, whining about Iain's joke about hosing down the Greenpeach rabble is far more important than actual freedom of speech...

/golfclap

Evan Price said...

Nigel,

Having now read the report on wikileaks, it does appear that it was prepared for the purpose of advising Trafigura about its position in relation to what appears to be disgraceful activity in the Ivory Coast.

As a lawyer, it alarms me considerably that the privilege that attaches to such documents can be published at will and that MPs think it appropriate for them to ask questions that specifically seek to protect people who apparently deliberately breach that confidentiality - and so use Parliamentary privilege to 'trump' other privilege.

As I said in my post, the scope of the injunction is clearly too wide, but it does not mean that an injunction should not have been granted - and it now appears that the firm has given up protecting any privilege it may have had in the documents now anyway.

Nigel said...

Evan,

from tory-politico.com:

"...The report was prepared by UK law firm Waterson & Hicks, and was received by a large London based oil and commodity trader, into toxic dumping practices by its client – Trafigura..."

So, though I take your point, I'm still not sure.
After all, it was not the trader who sought the injunction, and the use of the libel laws for this purpose seems inappropriate to say the least.

The other thing to consider is whether, once material of a factual nature like this is leaked, the public interest is served by its suppression.

DespairingLiberal said...

Of course it alarms Evan and his fellow lawyers. It exposes for all to see what a bunch of grubby, anti-citizen and anti-environment little shysters many lawyers and legal firms are.

Wikileaks is changing the world by bringing out into the open that which wicked people would prefer to keep secret.

It's always better out than in.

Evan Price said...

Nigel, we'll have to see what the effect of this all is.

DespairingLiberal, you may disagree with me, but I am concerned to protect you too - after all, next time it could be the advice that you receive that is exposed without your consent.

Of course I am as concerned about the environment and about what appears to be unlawful dumping of toxic waste, but the process in which these things are resolved should not impigne on the rights of a potential defendant to seek advice in relation to their activities.

And no, confidential advice should not be 'out' unless the client wishes it to be so.

We should all be able to seek legal advice in confidence. The rule of law is not helped if some of that can be arbitrarily abused or removed by the actions of someone else!

Tosin said...

Good to hear now that the Guardian is able to report on the story now.38 Degrees are currently running a campaign on this. Take action now by emailing your MP and asking them to take a stand to stop this happening again in the future. Take action now, it only takes 2 mins. Go to:

http://www.38degrees.org.uk/stop-the-gag

caz said...

Carter-Ruck are not dissimilar to Schillings

In fact, at least three lawyers at Carter-Ruck have come from Schillings, Hanna Basha, Felicity Robinson and Michelle Riondel.

Schillings have attempted to effect a gag order on various websites on the internet to prevent the public from knowing that that there is a clear (electronic) connection between Ark Academies and the Dutroux scandal (about the sexual abuse, torture and murder of children scandal in Belgium in the late 1990's).

Ark Academies sponsor schools in the UK.

First Schillings letter:
http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Schillings_legal_demands_to_EUTruth.Org_over_EIM_Chair_Arpad_Busson

Censored video:
http://wikileaks.org/wiki/EIMConsult_censored_video

Refutation:
http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Talk:EIMConsult_censored_video

Second Schillings letter:
http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Schillings_legal_threat_re_Arpad_Busson%2C_EIM_Group_and_ARK_Schools_to_911forum.org.uk_hoster%2C_16_Dec_2008

Refutation:
http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Talk:Schillings_legal_threat_re_Arpad_Busson,_EIM_Group_and_ARK_Schools_to_911forum.org.uk_hoster,_16_Dec_2008#ARK.2C_Ron_Beller.2C_and_subprime_mortgages

Ark's eugenics programme now in place in UK schools:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBxQpft5F_k

DespairingLiberal said...

Evan, I think the problem you are having morally is in distinguishing between the protection given to a corporation and an individual. A corporation simply does not deserve the right to have dirty actions kept secret, nor should it have the right to prevent parliamentary statements from being reported, ever. Not ever, period.

Something that you lawyers will always struggle with, I know, as corporations are regarded in our corrupt legal system as individuals, not to mention lucrative sources of much-needed fees.

Nigel said...

Evan.,

you may well be right in saying that confidential advice ought to remain so. That is rather beside the point.

I fail to see how the disclosure of a factual report (ostensibly commissioned by the plaintiff) could possibly be grounds for a libel action. This was at best a dubious case.
That a High Court judge should think it grounds for setting aside the Parliamentary Papers Act is astonishing.

Evan Price said...

Despairing Liberal:

The rule of law is there to ensure that everyone receives a fair trial. If a party to litigation's confidential information sought for the purpose of the litigation is breached, it may result in there being no fair trial. I fail to see how defending that principle can be described as immoral.

As to the distinction between companies and real persons, I understand your concerns, but I disagree that giving companies legal personality someone legitimises something immoral. Companies are merely a collection of individuals who put up capital for specific purposes and for gain, through an statutorily approved system of registration and receiving the benefit of limited liability. Is that immoral? Marx may say that it is, but I don't agree with Marx on this.

Many companies, one of which I am a director, are limited by guarantee and are expressly charitable in aim - indeed the one I refer to is a registered charity that provides accommodation for people who require extra care - should that company not have individual status?

I am sorry that you have difficulty with lawyers in general. Everyone has the right to seek advice - and I believe that there are very good reasons to allow them to keep that advice confidential - apart from anything else, it enable lawyers to be frank with their clients openly and fairly. Frequently I hear myself explaining to a client that their case is very interesting and they have some prospect of success, but that the costs and the risks are such that it is simply not worth it!

Nigel,

I agree that the scope of the injunction is too wide - and I suspect that the Judge who made is is feeling a little foolish this morning. Judges do sometimes err - and the method for overcoming should be through the return date or through an appeal. I have no doubt that the scope of this order would have been reduced at such a hearing - and Trafigura appear to have given up before the return date.

If this were an expert's report then it would have been disclosable in the proceedings - but confidentiality in it would have been maintained (as with any evidence) until it was called in court.

As to the alleged libel side, I have no idea what the claims and defences are so I am simply not able to comment.