It seems that, contrary to years of process and legal precedent, The Guardian newspaper was – until a couple of hours ago – blocked from reporting on Parliamentary proceedings.
Just to add to the rather cloak-and-dagger nature of things, the paper was also been told not to say what they’ve been prevented from talking about. I seem to recall the Spycatcher affair took a similar turn, with the media at one stage not allowed to mention the name of the author of the banned book… and we all know how well that turned out.
Fortunately, early this afternoon – just in time, one might say – the lawyers responsible for the injunction (perennial Private Eye favourites Carter-Ruck) dropped the claim, leaving the paper free to report the item in question, which I’ll reprint here, mainly because I can:
Labour MP Paul Farrelly intends 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.”
So, Carter-Ruck had issued an injunction to prevent a paper reporting a question about an injunction? Crikey, that kind of activity certainly strays close to the zone known as self-parody.
Facetiousness aside, this was a strange legal move, and one which – temporarily – went against freedom of speech issues which had been in place for centuries (and had been, in legal terms, recently* ruled upon by Lord Denning) stating that whatever’s said in Parliament can be reported without it potentially being seen as contempt of court. The opposite of Las Vegas, one might say.
Anyway, I thought this was worthy of drawing to your attention as a freedom of the press issue; I hold no brief for The Guardian, and approach their work with much the same narrowed-eye cynicism as I do most of the newspapers, but I think it’s getting to a pretty sorry state of affairs when a law firm can take out (and, in the first instance at least, obtain) a gagging order to prevent the centuries-established reporting of a parliamentary question, especially one about a gagging order.
*By which, of course, I mean over 20 years ago.