Archive for October 13th, 2009

Today I am talking to Carl Gardner, ex government lawyer, a barrister and author of The Head of Legal blog.  We look at whether the Bill of Rights has, in fact, been infringed by the gag, the use of injunctions generally and specifically in this instance, the use of parliamentary privilege and whether the judges are going too far in granting injunctions which can, effectively, be destroyed in their effect by many thousands of angry people on twitter and in the blogosphere.

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Yesterday The Guardian‘s David Leigh in an article published on Monday night before hitting the front page on Tuesday  said this:

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.

In practical terms, at least as far as distribution to the public is concerned, Parliament had been gagged.

The context has been well put by Wikileaks.org and I quote from their website:

The question, the subject matter of the gag, correctly identified by Guido Fawkes, Alex Massie of The Spectator – who published details of the question while other mainstream media held back –  was the one tabled by

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

The Commons’ gag order was intended to prevent publication of Trafigura and Minton in the same context. As Wikileaks notes – the Minton report released by Wikileaks  has not been mentioned in the press because of a 11 September 2009 media injunction.

“To-date the UK public has been kept in the dark. Paul Farrelly’s question is an attempt to take on the suppression issue. In the process it connected the Minton report on WikiLeaks to Trafigura, something the UK media could not, or would not do.”

“Knowing this, lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, obtained a second, secret media injunction to prevent reporting of Paul Farrelly MP’s questions. That this alleged order was granted is a bold and dangerous move by the High Court towards the total privatization of censorship.”

Last night I was on twitter and,  along with many others,  I saw the Guardian story and tweeted about it, expressing a degree of outrage.  It did not take long before many hundreds of tweeters turned to thousands and overnight and this morning Trafigura and Carter Ruck found themselves a trending topic on Twitter – even Stephen Fry weighed in, adding countless thousands more to the clamour.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardia,  reported this afternoon:

“I’m very pleased that common sense has prevailed and that Carter-Ruck’s clients are now prepared to vary this 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.”

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ABA Journal: 24 Hours of Legal Rebels…

While I prefer the term ‘independent’ to ‘rebel’ when applied to my Charon persona, I was delighted to be invited to participate in a project being run by the ABA Journal – 24 Hours of Rebels.

This is how the ABA Journal describes the project:

You’re invited to an online meeting of some of the most creative minds in the legal profession. We’re asking them to answer the question: How does the practice of law need to change in the next five years?

They’ll do more than just describe what needs fixing – they’ll offer solutions you can put into practice in your profession life. And you can participate in the conversation, through webinars, online radio shows and live chats.

I’ve written a piece on one aspect of legal education on the themethat we have too many lawyers and too many law schools are taking on too many law students.  I may have to get my coat and deport myself when it goes out on the ABA Journal website on Thursday.  I’ll provide the link when it does.

The other contributors look as if they have some interesting things to say… you may want to check it out.

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The Guardian has been gagged from reporting on parliamentary proceedings. The news broke on Twitter a couple of nights ago when Alan Rusbridger the editor of The Guardian tweeted “Breaking news: Guardian gagged by a company in the High Court. We can’t tell you which company, or why. Er, that’s it”

The Guardian followed this up with a report. The inevitable happened.  Twitter was very active last night.  Type “Guardian gagged” into the Twitter search box to see how active.  Political bloggers were soon onto the matter with Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale and Tory Politico acting swiftly.

The general principle that proceedings in parliament should be reported fully has been undermined by this episode.  Suggestions, on Twitter, that an MP may be using Parliamentary privilege to circumvent an injunction were raised.  Who knows?  The Guardian plans to fight the injunction. This story will, inevitably, continue to run.

Interestingly, the Guardian stated: “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.”

This statement was inevitably going to lead to widespread coverage on the blogs and the twittersphere. From there it was only a matter of time before….speculation and surmise hit the net….

To other matters, but staying with The Guardian –  A rather important story for the rule of law, the role of regulatory authorities and solicitor ethics.

Lawyer’s £5m battle over ruined career

Barrister ‘unable to work for 16 years’ sues former head of Law Society for negligence

The Guardian reports:

A former president of the Law Society and his City law firm are being sued for up to £5m over allegations that they helped a global oil company wreck a barrister’s career. Michael Napier and three other lawyers from his company, Irwin Mitchell, have been accused of a breach of contract and negligence by Michael Ford for allegedly colluding with Exxon Mobil. Ford, a barrister in Hong Kong, claims that he has been unable to practise his profession for 16 years. Napier, Irwin Mitchell and Exxon deny the claims.

Expenses:  They are all in it together…

After a break of 82 days MPs, even those chucking themselves or being chucked out of parliament through ‘resignation’ to spend more time with their duck island et al or likely to be chucked out by the electorate, returned from the long vacation.

The Independent reports:

Gordon Brown’s attempt to clean up politics after the MPs’ expenses scandal backfired on him yesterday when he was ordered to pay back more than £12,000 he claimed in allowances.

Sir Thomas Legg, a former senior civil servant called in by Mr Brown to audit claims by all MPs, ruled that the Prime Minister had claimed too much for cleaning at his second home and uncovered a £1,396 “double claim” for painting and decorating. Mr Brown agreed immediately to pay back a total of £12,415.

In a dramatic twist to the expenses saga, senior figures in all three main parties were dragged into the net. Sir Thomas asked David Cameron, his shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Chancellor Alistair Darling to provide further details of their claims for mortgage interest under the MPs’ “second homes” allowance, while the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, repaid £910 he had claimed for gardening costs.

Ah.. this is more like it.  The Silly Season is over.  The Conference season is over…. now politics becomes real again.

Oh… and you may want to look at this from The Spectator…

British Press Banned from Reporting Parliament. Seriously.

Alex Massie writes… “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…”

Interesting stuff!

UPDATE 1.15pm

Charonqc Guardian gag lifted http://bit.ly/11mYDb #Trafigura #CarterRuck

It would appear that twitter did, indeed, mobilise some support – Guardian editor thanks twitter for support.

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