PM Pledges Action On ‘Super-Injunctions’

(Press Gazette) – JUSTICE SECRETARY JACK STRAW is to examine the use of so-called ‘super injunctions’ following the Trafigura row, the Prime Minister told MPs today.

Gordon Brown said the granting of secret injunctions, which not only banned reporting of a story but also of the existence of the ban itself was an ‘unfortunate area of the law.’

Yesterday The Guardian reported that it had been prevented from reporting a Parliamentary question relating to oil company Trafigura because of an injunction obtained by the firm’s lawyers, Carter Ruck.

Tory MP Peter Bottomley raised the issue at Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons today, saying: ‘No court should grant such an order and I intend to report them to the Law Society for asking for the injunction.’

He called for details of secret or emergency injunctions to be placed in the House of Commons library and Press Gallery and added that any such order should be reviewed the next working day at the Court of Appeal.

Brown said: ‘This is an issue where an injunction has been awarded but it has been awarded in the context where it has to remain secret and people are not told what the outcome is generally.

‘The Justice Secretary has talked to the parties concerned and is looking into this issue.’

He then told Bottomley: ‘I hope that on the basis of what you suggest progress can be made not just in this case but more generally to clear up what is an unfortunate area of the law.’

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger yesterday hailed a ‘great victory for free speech’ and said lawyers had ‘caved in’ over the order which prevented reporting of a question asked by Labour’s Paul Farrelly.

In a statement yesterday, Carter Ruck said: ‘There has never been any question of Trafigura applying for an injunction that had as its purpose the prevention of publication of any matter arising in Parliament. No such application has ever been made.

‘Nevertheless, as formulated (and as The Guardian apparently accepts) the Order would indeed have prevented The Guardian from reporting on the Parliamentary Question which had been tabled for later this week.’

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Victory! Carter Ruck Caves In

(Press Gazette) – THE GUARDIAN has overturned an extraordinary injunction which banned it from reporting a question tabled by an MP in Parliament.

The paper revealed on its front page today that it had been banned from reporting the question due to: ‘Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involving proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.’

The report prompted a revolt on the social networking site Twitter where many users pointed out that the injunction had been brought by oil traders Trafigura.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger ‘tweeted’ today: ‘Victory! Carter Ruck caves-in. No Guardian court hearing. Media can now report Paul Farrelly’s PQ about Trafigura.

‘Thanks to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours! Great victory for free speech.’

The Parliamentary question which Trafigura tried to stop the media reporting, via lawyers Carter Ruck, was tabled by Labour MP Farrelly to justice secretary Jack Straw.

He asks Straw: ‘… 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.’

In the same way that last night’s injunction was widely flouted online, the Minton report is also easy to find online using a search engine.

Guardian Gagged From Reporting Parliament

(Press Gazette) – THE GUARDIAN was yesterday apparently hit with a wide-ranging injunction which forbids it from reporting a question from an MP to a minister published in a House of Commons order paper yesterday.

MPs have absolute privilege with regards to statements in the House of Commons, and media reports of Parliament have qualified privilege which provides a defence against libel actions.

According to the Guardian’s veteran investigative reporter David Leigh, it is the first time in memory that the paper has been prevented from reporting Parliament.

He writes today: ‘Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client, who must remain secret.’

The only hint the Guardian gives as to who is behind the action is the identification of the lawyers Carter Ruck, who it says specialise in suing the media for individuals or global corporations.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: ‘The media laws in this country increasingly place newspapers in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it. It is doubly menacing when those restraints include the reporting of parliament itself.’

Such wide-ranging gagging orders are usually only used in privacy or breach of confidence cases.

In March this year The Guardian was injuncted by Barclays Bank after publishing seven documents relating to tax avoidance services offered by the bank and banned by a High Court judge from publishing them.

Press Gazette has no information about the details of The Guardian injunction; but notes that among the questions tabled in Commons order papers yesterday was one by Paul Farrelly MP: ‘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.’

Press Gazette has, at the time of writing, not received any notification as to whether or not it too is to be barred from reporting on any of yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Commons.

… (13/10/2009) – Victory! Carter Ruck Caves In