Carter-Ruck in new move to stop debate in parliament
Over the last few days an alleged super-injunction against a national newspaper has caused quite a media stir, and even made its way onto the agenda of prime minister's questions.
By Sarah Garrod.
'Let's gag Carter-Ruck'
Yesterday a small number of protestors gathered outside the law firm who issued the super-injunction, and inthenews.co.uk joined them to see what all the fuss was about.
On Tuesday an order made by law firm Carter-Ruck temporarily stopped the Guardian reporting details of an MP's parliamentary question. The libel lawyers were believed to have imposed the ban after a Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, asked a question relating to Trafigura, an oil company, and Ivory Coast toxic waste. The issue was with the publication of the Minton report into the waste issue, on which an injunction still remains.
A media frenzy began over whether an injunction could be served on parliamentary proceedings, which are normally subject to absolute privilege, the highest form of protection available to a journalist.
But the antiquated nature of Britain's libel laws was exposed when the details of the injunction were widely reported on micro-blogging site Twitter, as well as on popular blogs.
Richard Wilson, a writer from London who helped organise the protest, published details of the Carter-Ruck injunction online. He toldinthenews.co.uk at yesterday's 'silent' protest: "I was just outraged when I heard through Twitter that Carter-Ruck had tried to gag the Guardian from reporting what was going on in parliament for the first time I think in 200 or 300 years.
"For me it fits into a much wider pattern of attacks on freedom of speech in the country. I've written two books and been threatened with libel twice.
"I wasn't sure what the legal situation was when I posted up the parliamentary question up on Twitter which helped to fuel the frenzy. I may be in contempt of court but I think that sometimes you have to put something on the line because we didn't get these democratic freedoms for free and I think sometimes some people need to take a stand to keep hold of them."
Mr Farrelly questioned the report in parliament, saying later on Tuesday: "Today the Guardian reported that it had been prevented from reporting a written question tabled by a Member of Parliament. This morning I telephoned The Guardian to ask whether that MP was myself.
"The question was printed on the order paper yesterday and relates to the activities of Trafigura, an international oil trader at the centre of a controversy concerning toxic waste dumping on the Ivory Coast.
"The question also relates to the role of its solicitors, Carter-Ruck. I understand that yesterday Carter-Ruck, quite astonishingly, warned the Guardian of legal action if the newspaper reported my question. In view of the seriousness of this, Mr Speaker, will you accept representations from me over this matter and consider whether Carter-Ruck's behaviour constitutes potential contempt of parliament?"
On Wednesday the Guardian said that Trafigura had dropped its bid to gag the newspaper. It reported that Carter-Ruck was accused of "infringing the supremacy of parliament after it insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented the paper from reporting a question tabled on Monday by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly".
Gordon Brown said the use of the super-injunction was "an unfortunate area of the law". And also on Wednesday the law firm itself issued a statement saying: "Following comments in parliament today and widespread media misreporting of this matter, Carter-Ruck (on Trafigura's and its own behalf) has today written to the speaker of the House of Commons."
The letter said that since September 11th 2009 an order had been placed against the Guardian and persons unknown. Carter-Ruck said it should be stressed that the Guardian had consented to the order remaining in place pending resolution of the matter. The law firm also reiterated that nothing had prevented the paper from publishing the proceedings of parliament, which would mean the firm had committed contempt of parliament.
However, a group of demonstrators yesterday took to the streets outside Carter-Ruck to protest against the 'Guardian Gag'. They wore black gags over their mouths, saying "We won't be breaking the law, they, and the people they represent are."
The group organised the demonstration through a 'Tweetvite' entitled 'Let's Gag Carter-Ruck'. Twitter has been instrumental in the whole process, with Mr Farrelly's question posted on the site numerous times after the Guardian reported the super-injunction.
Anonymous1667 (pictured) added: "As an individual obviously I support these guys and what they do but as a member of anonymous, who I am not a spokesperson for, the protest group, we have had a run-in with Carter-Ruck before.
"With the libel laws the way they are, when a large corporation like Trafigura is accused of a very serious crime and just because an internal document is leaked to the press that a super-gag is placed on the press so that they cannot continue to investigate the dealings of Trafigura; well, the libel laws in this country are skewed.
"They are attacking free press.
"I hope that parliament have a thorough investigation."
David Leigh - The Guardian
Carter-Ruck in new move to stop debate in parliament
The law firm Carter-Ruck has made a fresh move that could stop an MPs' debate next week by claiming a controversial injunction it has obtained is "sub judice".
The move follows the revelation of the existence of a secret "super-injunction" obtained by the firm on behalf of the London-based oil traders Trafigura.
The injunction not only bans disclosure of a confidential report on Trafigura and toxic waste, but also banned disclosure of the injunction's very existence, until it was revealed by an MP this week under parliamentary privilege.
Carter-Ruck partner Adam Tudor today sent a letter to the Speaker, John Bercow, and also circulated it to every single MP and peer, saying they believed the case was "sub judice".
If correct, it would mean that, under Westminster rules to prevent clashes between parliament and the courts, a debate planned for next Wednesday could not go ahead.
Earlier this week, the Labour MP Paul Farrelly said Carter-Ruck might be in contempt of parliament for seeking to stop the Guardian reporting questions he had put down on the order paper revealing the existence of the "super-injunction".
The Conservative MP Peter Bottomley went on to tell Gordon Brown at prime minister's questions that he would report Carter-Ruck to the Law Society for obtaining an injunction that purported to ban parliamentary reporting.
Carter-Ruck said in a letter and press release that, although the Speaker had discretion over sub judice questions, "we believe the proceedings to have been and to remain 'active' within the definition of House Resolution ... of 15 November 2001 in that arrangements have been made for the hearing of an application before the Court".
Bercow had told MPs the previous day: "It is not sub judice under the house's rules ... There is no question of our own proceedings being in any way inhibited."
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who secured next week's debate, said: "I read with interest the letter from Carter-Ruck. I do not think that sub judice is involved here and I do not think that MPs will be deterred from discussing this case in the debate without a ruling from the Speaker, which he has not as yet indicated any likelihood of providing."
Farrelly said: "Carter-Ruck's manoeuvres this week, were it not so serious, would be tantamount to high farce. It is important MPs should not be prevented from going ahead with debates next week."
The prominent media lawyer Mark Stephens said: "This sort of assault on democratic privileges is what you would expect to see in a banana republic."
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