Guardian hails free speech victory
Guardian hails free speech victory over Trafigura gagging order
Tuesday, 13, Oct 2009 01:44
The law firm that gained an injunction preventing the Guardian from publishing an MP's question in parliament has caved in, the newspaper has revealed.
By Matthew Champion.
Labour MP Paul Farrelly had tabled a question to justice secretary Jack Straw concerning a separate injunction obtained by Carter-Ruck to prevent the media reporting the toxic waste scandal which emerged last month. Click here for the full story.
Carter-Ruck, which specialises in suing the media on behalf of individuals or corporations, obtained another gagging order blocking the Guardian from reporting on Mr Farrell's question itself, the full text of which is copied below.
"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."
Reporting on parliament is subject to absolute privilege, the highest protection a journalist can receive against potential legal action.
As Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger went to the high court today seeking to overturn the gagging order, Carter-Ruck dropped its injunction, which it had initially obtained on the basis of contempt of court.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Rusbridger thanked fellow users for their "fantastic support" after the news a paper had been blocked from reporting parliamentary proceedings for the first time in memory sparked an instant campaign.
Thousands of tweets appeared expressing anger over the apparent attack on the freedom of the press. #trafigura was briefly the top trending topic on Twitter this morning, with Carter-RUCK, #carterruck and Trafigura all trending highly as well.
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Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also entered the debate, writing on Twitter: "Very interested concerned about this #trafigura / Guardian story the @LibDems are planning to take action on this." His party later tabled urgent questions in Westminster on the issue.
Activists have already planned a mass protest outside Carter-Ruck's offices this Thursday.
"Great victory for free speech," Mr Rusbridger added on his Twitter profile.
UK firm Trafigura was exposed last month, by the Guardian, as trying to cover up a "pollution disaster" in Africa. Click here for the full story.
Breaking the news of the injunction last night, veteran Guardian journalist David Leigh said it was the first time the paper had been prevented from reporting in parliament.
"Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret," he said.
Mr Rusbridger, speaking before the injunction was overturned, 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," he said. "It is doubly menacing when those restrains include the reporting of parliament itself."