UK: Press Banned from Reporting on Parliament

By Alex Massie

Tuesday, 13th October 2009

This time, perhaps even the lawyers have gone too far. It’s hard to recall, even in the long history of appalling gagging orders, a more disgraceful injunction than this:

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.
Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

Remarkable, even by the appalling standards of our libel laws and addled judiciary. This appears to be the question in, er, question:

From Parliament.uk, “Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Tuesday 13 October 2009″

(292409)
61
N 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.

And this is a report on how the oil company Trafigura tried to cover up pollution in Africa.

This country’s libel laws have been a disgrace for years and one can only hope that egregious abuses of an already abusive system persuades folk that, dash it, something must be done.

UPDATE: The Twitterverse is going mental for #trafigura and I suspect that by the time all this is over far more people will be aware of the controversy swirling around Trafigura’s African adventures than would have been the case had they kept quiet and not attempted to silence the press. Combatting this sort of bullying, however, is one thing the blogosphere is good at.

UPDATE 2: There is, at the time of writing, no mention of this story on the BBC’s website. Why on earth not? (There is now – and of course, as commenters point out, Newsnight has covered Trafigura’s African exploits before. And been sued for their troubles. So my criticism of the Corporation was somewhat unfair. Mea culpa.)

UPDATE 3: 1.20pm: Carter-Ruck have abandoned their attempt to prevent the reporting parliamentary proceedings. The Twitterati and the Blogoshpere have prevailed in the great Battle of Trafigura. But it is ridiculous that such a battle for such an elementary press freedom had to be fought in the first place. The Lib Dems are quite right to call for a parliamentay debate on this.

Source

Guardian gagged from reporting parliament

David Leigh

October 13  2009

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

The Guardian has vowed urgently to go to court to overturn the gag on its reporting. The 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.”

The media lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said Lord Denning ruled in the 1970s that “whatever comments are made in parliament” can be reported in newspapers without fear of contempt.

He said: “Four rebel MPs asked questions giving the identity of ‘Colonel B’, granted anonymity by a judge on grounds of ‘national security’. The DPP threatened the press might be prosecuted for contempt, but most published.”

The right to report parliament was the subject of many struggles in the 18th century, with the MP and journalist John Wilkes fighting every authority – up to the king – over the right to keep the public informed. After Wilkes’s battle, wrote the historian Robert Hargreaves, “it gradually became accepted that the public had a constitutional right to know what their elected representatives were up to”.

Source

September 14, 2009

Following press reportage about dumping off the coast of Africa, Waterson & Hicks, a UK law firm acting for Trafigura, a multi-national oil and commodity trader, ordered and received this confidential report (the so-called “Minton report“) into toxic dumping practices by its client along and on the Ivory Coast.

Trafigura drops bid to gag Guardian over MP’s question
By David Leigh
October 13 2009
• Web users publish details of legal issue raised in parliament
• Labour member asked about injunction over toxic waste case

The Guardian editor on the affair of the ‘super-injunction’ preventing the paper reporting a parliamentary question Link to this audio

An unprecedented attempt by a British oil trading firm to prevent the Guardian reporting parliamentary proceedings collapsedtoday following a spontaneous online campaign to spread the information the paper had been barred from publishing.

Carter-Ruck, the law firm representing Trafigura, 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.

Farrelly’s question was about the implications for press freedom of an order obtained by Trafigura preventing the Guardian and other media from publishing the contents of a report related to the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

In today’s edition, the Guardian was prevented from identifying Farrelly, reporting the nature of his question, where the question could be found, which company had sought the gag, or even which order was constraining its coverage.

But overnight numerous users of the social networking site Twitter posted details of Farrelly’s question and by this morning the full text had been published on two prominent blogs as well as in the magazine Private Eye.

Carter-Ruck withdrew its gagging attempt by lunchtime, shortly before a 2 pm high court hearing at which the Guardian was about to challenge its stance, with the backing of other national newspapers.

MPs from all three major parties condemned the firm’s attempt to prevent the reporting of parliamentary proceedings. Farrelly told John Bercow, the Speaker : “Yesterday, I understand, Carter-Ruck quite astonishingly warned of legal action if the Guardian reported my question. In view of the seriousness of this, will you accept representations from me over this matter and consider whether Carter-Ruck’s behaviour constitutes a potential contempt of parliament?”

The Commons question reveals that Trafigura has obtained a hitherto secret injunction, known as a “super-injunction”, to prevent disclosures about toxic oil waste it arranged to be dumped in west Africa in 2006, making thousands of people ill.

Farrelly is asking Jack Straw, the justice secretary, about the implications for press freedom of a high court injunction obtained on 11 September 2009 by Trafigura “on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura”.

The Guardian is still forbidden by the terms of the existing injunction, granted by a vacation duty judge, Mr Justice Maddison,
to give further information about the Minton report, or its contents. Last month, Trafigura agreed to pay more than £30m in compensation and legal costs to 30,000 inhabitants of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, for “flu-like symptoms” they might have suffered following the dumping. The oil traders continue to deny that the waste could have caused serious or fatal injuries.

The use of “super-injunctions”, under which commercial corporations claim the right to keep secret the fact that they have been to court, has been growing. Anonymity is also increasingly being granted to individual litigants.

Last week, an anonymity order was overturned at the supreme court under which Mohammed al-Ghabra, an alleged al-Qaida financier named in official UN and Treasury publications, was to be known only as G. A further pending supreme court case involving an MI5 officer’s memoirs is currently only known as “A v B”.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said yesterday: “I’m very pleased that common sense has prevailed and that Carter-Ruck are now prepared to vary their draconian injunction to allow reporting of parliament. It is time that judges stopped granting ‘super-injunctions’ which are so absolute and wide-ranging that nothing about them can be reported at all.”

Carter-Ruck, whose partner Adam Tudor has been representing Trafigura, issued a press release conceding: “The Order would indeed have prevented the Guardian from reporting on the Parliamentary Question which had been tabled for later this week.” But the firm said the Guardian’s reporting on the issue had been “highly misleading”.

The firm added: “There is no question of Trafigura seeking to ‘gag’ the media from reporting Parliamentary proceedings, and the parties have now agreed to an amendment to the existing Order so as to reflect that.”

The previous night, Carter-Ruck had written to the Guardian saying: “The threatened publication would place the Guardian in contempt of court … please confirm by immediate return that the publications threatened will not take place.”

At Westminster , the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris said there was a need to “control the habit of law firms” of obtaining secrecy injunctions, and his colleague David Heath told the Commons a “fundamental principle” was being threatened: that MPs should be able to speak freely and have their words reported freely.

On the Conservative side, David Davis, former shadow home secretary, criticised the rising use of “super-injunctions”, in which the fact of the injunction is itself kept secret.

He said courts should not be allowed to grant injunctions forbidding the reporting of parliament.

Bercow said the issue could be raised formally as a matter of privilege, but he understood the injunction had been lifted.

Farrelly told the Guardian afterwards: “The issuing by the courts of so-called super-injunctions is rightly controversial and a matter of growing concern. That is why, using parliamentary privilege, I tabled these questions.

  • “The practice offends the time-honoured ‘rule against prior restraint’, which safeguards freedom of expression in this country.
  • “It also fails to protect whistleblowers acting in the public interest. The huge legal bills involved in fighting cases, too, have a chilling effect on legitimate investigative journalism.
  • “So often, the beneficiaries are big corporations. The fact that the press is also barred from reporting the existence of these gagging orders is doubly pernicious.”

Source

Congratulations goes out to all those who helped protect the freedom of the press.  We must never let Corporations, dictate what the press can or cannot report.

The Judge who ordered the Gag Order should be repremanded.  What he did was wrong in every sense of the word.

The Guardian and every other news agency has the right to report what goes on in Parliament and  report on what bad Corporations are doing.

In this case Trafigura was responsible for deaths of many people and the cause of illness among even more.  This company certainly has overstepped it bounds.  They full well knew the toxic waste would cause damage to people and the environment and yet they dumped it anyway.

They are guilty of murder and gross negligence.

They are the criminals,  not the news media who wants to report what they did.

Again kudos to all who helped put this corporation and the law firm in it’s proper place.

  1. The Corporation
  2. The Law Firm
  3. The Judge

All should be reprimanded.

This is an absolute abuse of power.

This is an absolute attack on

  1. Freedom of Speech
  2. Freedom of the Press
  3. The public’s right to be informed

Super-injunctions should not be tolerated.

This just enables corporations criminal activities.

All Citizens have the right to know what is going on in their Governments. They work for us the people.

We have the right to know every detail of what they do.

They are our employees.  As the Boss I am appalled.

When you work for me,  you report to me, whether I voted for you or not. You still work for me the citizen.

Governments do not work for Corporations, nor do they work for their own self interests.

They work for WE the PEOPLE.

No bloody Court orders gagging, my press will be tolerated.

That is just criminal in itself.

That should not even be a debate.

Our rights are being stomped on. ….

By Criminal Corporations no less.

Corporations rights do not, top our rights as Citizens.

Free Trae Agreements have given them far to much power.

That power should be removed.

From September 18 2009

How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster/Trafigura  E-Mails

Other Corporate polluters in US and other countries

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