News, views and what I choose to dos

UK Parliament press gagging madness

Category : Journalism · by Oct 13th, 2009

This is truly appalling: The Guardian has been prevented from publishing a question put forward by a member of parliament to the UK Parliament by legal threats from one of the parties involved. It was this:

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

The Guardian is going to appeal – and it will win – but that’s not the point. This is a dreadful abuse of legal power – undermining the two biggest institutions designed to maintain freedom: Parliament and the press. That a newspaper is not allowed to publish what a representative of the people has asked in the country’s parliament is so bad it’s almost a spoof. And of course, it had to be the biggest offenders of press gagging – Carter-Ruck solicitors – behind it.

For those that don’t know the little world of UK journalism, Carter-Ruck specialise in pressuring journalists for rich and powerful clients to prevent them publishing embarrassing details. They are so renowned at this that the campaigning legendary publication Private Eye refers to them as “Carter-Fuck”.

Anyway, this fortunately is the era of the Internet, so I have found the question in question and posted it above. You can actually read the official version on the Parliament website. It is question 292409. Farrelly – who used to be city editor for the Guardian’s Sunday paper, The Observer – asked a further three questions, all clearly pointing in the same direction:

292952 – To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the Court of Appeal judgment in May 2009 in the case of Michael Napier and Irwin Mitchell v Pressdram Limited in respect of press freedom to report proceedings in court.

293006 – To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will (a) collect and (b) publish statistics on the number of non-reportable injunctions issued by the High Court in each of the last five years.

293012 – To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what mechanisms HM Court Service uses to draw up rosters of duty judges for the purpose of considering time of the essence applications for the issuing of injunctions by the High Court.

Hopefully many others will feel similarly infuriated and publish these questions and also start digging into what’s behind them.

Update: I’ve done a quick bit of digging on this and have turned up some interesting information on Trafigura and their toxic waste dumping.

The Guardian has been running stories on how the UK-based company tried to cover up an African pollution disaster by offering to pay off those affected. And Farrelly picked up in a Select Committee hearing in June – where you can read one lawyer explaining the legal lengths that the company and its lawyers are going to in order to prevent news of that deal spreading.

And thanks to Andy Chantrill aka Plaggypig for pointing me to this Newsnight investigation into the incident. So you watch a video of it as well.


(4) comments

12 years ago ·

This is the Minton report (as mentioned above), but never until today mentioned in UK media (despite articles on this scandal being run)

12 years ago ·

Thanks, Kieren. I was pretty appalled to see the Guardian’s article today. I’ll plan to post something on crooked timber later on. Shocking stuff indeed, and an appalling infringement on the rights of Parliament and a free press.

[…] October, there was outrage when UK libel lawyers Carter-Ruck prevented a newspaper from repeating questions asked in Parliament. The issue was regarding the lawyers’ client, Trafigura, which several media outlets […]

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