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British Press Banned from Reporting Parliament. Seriously.

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, “Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Tuesday 13 October 2009″

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.

Filed under: Lawyers (5 more articles) , Libel (4 more articles) , Newspapers (196 more articles) , Westminster (55 more articles)

Blogs: Martin Bright | Clive Davis | Melanie Phillips | Coffee House | Faith Based

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lord gnome

October 13th, 2009 12:07am Report this comment

Countdown until you receive a writ from the Carter-Fuck! 10... 9...

Private Eye seems to have been previously injuncted and mentioned that an MP would be asking these questions.

I wonder if they'll print as the Guardian clearly doesn't have the stones

Peter Walker

October 13th, 2009 12:09am Report this comment

Thanks for having some guts and breaking cover. This is a disgrace.

Jamie Potter

October 13th, 2009 12:26am Report this comment

We should 'gag' Carter Ruck on Thursday, the day the question is due to be read in Parliament. Flash mob/blockade outside their office in London.

Herbert Thornton

October 13th, 2009 12:48am Report this comment

I know absolutely nothing of the matter but it sounds fascinating.

I look forward not just to reading more about it in the Spectator, but even more eagerly to reading what Private Eye will say about it......

Pam Nash

October 13th, 2009 12:52am Report this comment

My congratulations for publishing the Parliamentary question. Although it is, apparently, on Wikileaks, and is floating around the blogosphere, with various links on Twitter, I believe you are the first from the MSM to publish. Kudos! There is a campaign on Twitter to get #trafigura as a Tending Topic on Tuesday. Bring it on!


October 13th, 2009 12:56am Report this comment

Anyone have any links to where we can find the docs online? Can't spot them on wikileaks (yet)...


October 13th, 2009 1:48am Report this comment

just check out Guido ....

I love teh interwebz !


October 13th, 2009 1:55am Report this comment

"UPDATE 2: There is, at the time of writing, no mention of this story on the BBC's website. Why on earth not?"

Perhaps the BBC has been barred from reporting that it too has been barred from reporting?

Britain has become the United Kingdom of Kafka!


October 13th, 2009 5:12am Report this comment

Alex - great piece, thanks for getting this out to a wider audience.

Anyone who wants to make a fuss out of this should (if they haven't already) sign up for a free Twitter account and include the hashtags #trafigura and #carterruck in each and every 'tweet'

The British media (except the Speccie, God Bless Her) might be a little cowed, but if we can publicise this to foreign media, this awful company and their lawyers can get something approaching just desert for trying to stifle press freedom in a democracy.


October 13th, 2009 6:14am Report this comment

"This country's libel laws..", meaning England's I presume? May we assume that the Scottish Law on defamation is a superior beast? Are you the boy to tell us, Alex?


October 13th, 2009 7:34am Report this comment

I wonder when the judge will publish his reasons for granting this injunction.


October 13th, 2009 8:29am Report this comment

never argue with a man who buys his ink by the gigabyte.


October 13th, 2009 8:33am Report this comment

@Tim the report has been on wikileaks for a while now:


October 13th, 2009 8:51am Report this comment

The Parliamentary Question from Paul Farrelly MP is online. Open Government, don'tcha know.

John Adams

October 13th, 2009 8:55am Report this comment

WikiLeaks released the "Minton report" some weeks ago. The UK press has been secret gagged all this time from mention that the report is on WikiLeaks. Goto and search for "minton report"!

Meat me later

October 13th, 2009 8:58am Report this comment

Yes the documents in question are on the obvious site, but they were uploaded last month (report 'A') and 6 months ago (report 'B') so you'll have to dig/search


October 13th, 2009 9:16am Report this comment

Is the Judicary the issue, or is it the law?


October 13th, 2009 9:20am Report this comment

if you want to tell MPs what you think of this censorship, you can use our robot :] it's in Parliament now, in the upper waiting gallery. You can send it a message via the website and it will write it out for MPs to read. Have your say on gagging


October 13th, 2009 9:27am Report this comment

well done. No. 1 trending topic on Twitter at the moment #trafigura

Umar Ahmed

October 13th, 2009 9:30am Report this comment

'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.'

I had never heard of Trafigura before this. A classic example of how doing nothing can often be better!


October 13th, 2009 9:39am Report this comment

This is a really hot topic on Twitter.


October 13th, 2009 9:49am Report this comment

Thank you for breaking the gag order. This is a terrible precedent to set.

Colin McLaughlan

October 13th, 2009 10:24am Report this comment

Is it the Trafiga question or the Barclay's one ? Remember the Guardian was previously banned from posting or telling people where to get the documents showing their tax-avoidance plans "Project Knight" can be found online. (wikileaks thx)


October 13th, 2009 11:06am Report this comment

I'm in a very similar situation to others, I hadn't been following the Trafigura libel question. But I think gagging a newspaper from reporting parliament is a red line, and well done The Spectator for covering it. Shame on The Independent and others with pretensions of giving a toss about press freedom, yet haven't even got blog entries on the story.


October 13th, 2009 11:24am Report this comment

11:20 on Tuesday and no CoffeeHouse (main page) posts. At all.

Grumpy lawyers been keeping you busy, Fraser?

Albert O'Balsam

October 13th, 2009 11:33am Report this comment

BBC Newsnight ran a report on the affair back in May. Do keep up.


October 13th, 2009 11:35am Report this comment


October 13th, 2009 11:38am Report this comment

There's the Wikileaks document. :)

Ian Stuart

October 13th, 2009 11:46am Report this comment

Maybe we're all looking at this the wrong way... maybe Waterson & Hicks were so appalled by the Trafigura action that they too action to highlight it... and brought the gagging action *deliberately*?

(simply invert the politicians technique of burying bad news by releasing it when something else is grabbing the headlines)

Is it time to scurry off and see what else has been released by the government?


October 13th, 2009 11:48am Report this comment

I thought there wasn't a mention of the story on the BBC site, but there is - painfully brief and omitting the background of the story atm, but it's there. Or here, rather.

He's Spartacus

October 13th, 2009 11:53am Report this comment

Well done, The Spectator, for having the sand to tread where The Grauniad would not!

Jess The Dog

October 13th, 2009 11:54am Report this comment

It's on my blog.

Sod them. Parliamentary privilege and reportage underpin our democracy (what there is of it). Lawyers can't take them away, writs are just pieces of paper and need compliance and obedience to be effective.

Richard Lawson

October 13th, 2009 11:56am Report this comment

Great to see that Carter-Ruck and Trafigura have succeeded in uniting left and right in revulsion at their action.

Ian Williams

October 13th, 2009 12:00pm Report this comment

@bbcnews get round to reporting on #trafigura


October 13th, 2009 12:03pm Report this comment

Well done.


October 13th, 2009 12:03pm Report this comment

Too late to try and gag and injunct all this now - the Barbra Streisand Effect wins out yet again.


October 13th, 2009 12:09pm Report this comment

Haven't Carter-Ruck heard of the Streisand Effect?

Paul A Davies

October 13th, 2009 12:11pm Report this comment

This is brave and important reporting, well done. The gagging order has sparked such anger that the banned question has, ironically and joyously, been given far more publicity via the Internet than would ever have been the case.

kel d

October 13th, 2009 12:20pm Report this comment

The BBC have sort of covered it, bless them. They have come at it from "newspaper has been gagged" sort of angle, playing safe...

Paul A Davies

October 13th, 2009 12:40pm Report this comment has an embedded link to the Minton report, for those interested.

Soon, we'll have people trying to obtain gagging orders as a deliberate publicity stunt. In this case, though, I reckon it was just a crass error.

Austin Barry

October 13th, 2009 12:55pm Report this comment

Congratulations to Alex and Fraser.


October 13th, 2009 12:56pm Report this comment

BBC article on this:


October 13th, 2009 12:58pm Report this comment

LibDems urge "press gag" debate. I suppose that's something.


October 13th, 2009 1:06pm Report this comment


Orla Robinson

October 13th, 2009 1:09pm Report this comment

CarterRuck haved caved in. No need for Guardian court hearing and Media can now report Paul Farrelly's PQ about Trafigura. Once info was viral, no injunction was possible whatever other merits of case. What a clever little paper the Guardian is.

Orla Robinson

October 13th, 2009 1:15pm Report this comment

need to credit legal blogger Jack of Kent for the last two lines of my previous comment.


October 13th, 2009 1:22pm Report this comment

Richard Lawson on left and right uniting.

How right you are. The Guardian, the Speccie, usually such unhappy bedfellows, working with others to expose this appalling state of affairs. Perhaps there is hope after all.

Alex (and perhaps Stephen Fry who used his influence make this a trending topic on twitter) deserve our appreciation.

Orla Robinson

October 13th, 2009 1:29pm Report this comment

the Guardian publish the PQ that was subject of (now lifted) gagging order

Hermann Weber

October 13th, 2009 1:44pm Report this comment

This is nearly as good as some Ministry guy here in Australia wants to exorcise the Australian Parliament. Just because it is under the influence of Satan as he claims. Evidence is legislation supporting homosexuality, push for a Bill of Rights as well as the number of politicians with serious marriage problems. Can you better this?
Hermann Weber

Wayne Barnes

October 13th, 2009 2:02pm Report this comment

Well done Spectator! At least you have shown the courage and loyalty to our country that is sadly lacking amongst Cice's swine who currently roll around in their own filth, feeding on expenses, in Westminster.
More of the same please!


October 13th, 2009 2:32pm Report this comment

Excellent posting - well done for having the guts to stand up to this.
Great news that CR has dropped, but don´t let the heat go out of the story...there are a couple of issues that really should be let lie..
1) why was the injunction granted in the first place ?
2) why did the BBC and Telegraph not report the substance of the matter ? cowardice ? injunctions ?
3) why were the Speaker not grant time to debate such an important threat to press and parliamentary freedoms ?

I think we should be told !

An American

October 13th, 2009 3:48pm Report this comment

Obviously, Massie does not even begin to understand the real American view point. The American that is willing to sacrifice for freedoms that we have enjoyed since 1776. He says Beck is all entertainment? Stay tuned Massie..change IS coming In the USA and it will start in Nov 2010.


October 13th, 2009 6:00pm Report this comment

Totally and utterly speechless

Elaine Decoulos

October 13th, 2009 8:34pm Report this comment

Good work. This is not a one off. I'm also being gagged in the High Court with secret hearings and worse. And it all started with a bogus injunction served on me in Massachusetts.

There are revolutionary monuments on nearly every street corner in Boston and it truly felt like the British were coming! And I thought the Revolution was over.

The nature of the court orders I have received are particularly draconian. I recently commented about this with regard to 'the special relationship' on the official State Dept blog:

Also submitted Memoranda to the UK Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, of which Paul Farrelly MP, is a member:

Would be so grateful if anyone in the mainstream media would like to take up my story.

Sam Johnson

October 14th, 2009 8:08am Report this comment

It is so worrying that a Global Corporate Company can so easily overide - Freedom of Speech and the Sovereignty of the People in the Commons. Although I know that this has been going on for very many years, this super injunction is a step too far. Hooray for the People of the World who are on this! What more can we all do as individuals to counter these Laws?

Amadeus Plonquer

October 14th, 2009 8:20am Report this comment

Without wishing to prejudice myself or any party to the receipt, viewing or reading this comment, I must inform you that under no circustances whatsoever did I send this comment whether by electronic or any other means. And if you publish this I'll deny it.


October 14th, 2009 4:14pm Report this comment

From Ben Fulford's blog:

"Queen Elizabeth may soon abdicate her throne

A source in the UK royal family says that Parliamentary debate is closed to the public for the first time since 1688 because they are debating removing the House of Windsor from the Throne of England. The Windsors are actually German and changed their name from Battenberg a century ago in order to appear more English. The Earl of Wales is the leading contender to be the new King of England. However, the debate is still under way and nothing has been finally decided."


October 14th, 2009 5:57pm Report this comment

Here’s another gem from Ben Fulford: "The secret government of the US and EU has promised a major overhaul in the wake of the warning it got from the Chinese secret society, according to a senior Japanese public security police officer and Freemason who has been acting as an intermediary with the Chinese secret society."

To me, the biggest surprise in this multinational plot was, I didn’t know they had Freemasons in Japan.

I wonder if he was writing plots for Saturday matinees in the Forties. The only thing he didn’t throw into the above paragraph was visitor King Zog, from a planet far away ...


October 14th, 2009 10:55pm Report this comment

Here's the injunction itself, issued by a Justice Maddison. Although secret in the UK, apparently Carter-Ruck emailed the text of the injunction to some Norwegian journalists.

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