Yes I know I took my own pictures of the Carter-Ruck flashmob last week, but this one has me in it. I’m in print! In the Guardian! Yay! Peter Preston also has some interesting points about the new alliances forged as a result of the second Carter-Ruck injunction on the Guardian:
as the Guardian‘s triumphant Alan Rusbridger noted, is that it wasn’t a win for press battalions or nippy legions of Twitterers alone. You needed the resources of a determined paper – and, in parallel, a dogged BBC – to pursue the toxic case of Africans falling violently ill in the Ivory Coast. And you needed an elliptical front page story in print about a gagged Commons question to set the blogosphere buzzing.
It’s a cute, quick conclusion, but he should bear in mind that there was no deliberate alliance, and after Carter-Ruck clearly got nervy about their misjudgment with it and varied the second injunction, it rapidly fell apart. Between Tuesday and Friday night’s reversal of the first super injunction, the blogosphere and Twitter in general had completely lost interest in Trafigura and Carter-Ruck. The issue for Twitter was the question of freedom of speech in parliament, nothing more – when that was restored it was job done, everyone then piled on Jan Moir for her homophobic bile, even though the Guardian was still operating under severe restrictions. The BBC also didn’t act uniformally with the Guardian and blogosphere – Newsnight and the Guardian may both have exposed Trafigura’s role in the toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast, and both were facing legal action by Carter-Ruck as a result, but the BBC was almost entirely silent when the Guardian went on the offensive.
Don’t get me wrong I think some very interesting changes have happened as a result of Carter-Ruck’s historic misjudgment with the second super injunction, but the relationship between old and new media is unstable and the outcomes frequently overstated. The fight against hack Jan Moir’s homophobic attack on Stephen Gately may have generated an historic number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), but the Daily HateMail’s editor Paul Dacre remains chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice – the very code his employee (and he by extension) broke. As long as that’s the case all the tweets in the world won’t really change anything, and indeed although Trafigura and Carter-Ruck are rapidly backtracking from their hardline behaviour, libel law is unchanged in the UK, other super injunctions remain in place and noone is holding Trafigura to account.
Following the failure of Carter-Ruck’s second ‘super injunction’ against the Guardian, which attempted to prevent them from reporting Paul Farrelly MP’s question in the House of Commons about the Minton Report, which contradicts their client Trafigura’s claims about the toxic waste dumping in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, they’ve suggested to the Speaker that even debating said super injunction is illegal:
Carter-Ruck partner Adam Tudor today sent a letter to the Speaker, John Bercow, and also circulated it to every single MP and peer, saying they believed the case was “sub judice”.
If correct, it would mean that, under Westminster rules to prevent clashes between parliament and the courts, a debate planned for next Wednesday could not go ahead.
Earlier this week, the Labour MP Paul Farrelly said Carter-Ruck might be in contempt of parliament for seeking to stop the Guardian reporting questions he had put down on the order paper revealing the existence of the “super-injunction”.
This case just gets worse and worse, but neither the speaker nor many MPs appear to agree with Carter-Ruck’s analysis:
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who secured next week’s debate, said: “I read with interest the letter from Carter-Ruck. I do not think that sub judice is involved here and I do not think that MPs will be deterred from discussing this case in the debate without a ruling from the Speaker, which he has not as yet indicated any likelihood of providing.”
Farrelly said: “Carter-Ruck’s manoeuvres this week, were it not so serious, would be tantamount to high farce. It is important MPs should not be prevented from going ahead with debates next week.”
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has written to Speaker Bercow, saying:
“I hope you take the view that this matter should, indeed, be debated,” he said. “The fact remains that the issue was unclear enough for an experienced QC [Queen's counsel] to advise us not to publish. There is a lack of clarity around this issue and Wednesday’s debate could serve a useful function in helping to give editors (and lawyers) guidance.”
This is a basic freedom of speech issue. We are in a situation where a national newspaper has discovered that a major multinational corporation has disposed of highly toxic waste in Ivory Coast, causing numerous injuries. Yet rather than respond to the story, Trafigura instead attacks the Guardian and other papers and broadcasters (not just in the UK) with a ‘super injunction’, preventing them from reporting on the Minton Report, which flat out contradicts their account of the story. The super injunction also bizarrely bans the reporting of the injunction itself. Then MP Paul Farrelly decides to bring the Minton Report and the super injunction up in a question in the House of Commons, but Carter-Ruck succeeds in banning reporting of his question with a second super injunction. Now after its fall, Carter-Ruck are trying to inhibit parliamentary debate of the issue.
Money (and lots of it) is subverting the right to free speech and a free press. There’s a terrible story which needs to be told here and a big cheque book shouldn’t be able to prevent it under the guise of ‘defamation’. This can’t go on. Read Jon Wessel-Aas’ fascinating article, detailing his experiences as a lawyer fighting super injuctions in Norway for some ideas on where the next step ought to lie. Is it time for the big media players to start defying this abuse of the law and reasserting the primacy of the press? If so the Tories’ threatened removal of the Human Rights Act would be an even greater catastrophe…
EDIT: Carter-Ruck and Trafigura have withdrawn the first super injunction. And the backtrack gains pace. Perhaps the Guardian and Twitter have achieved something enormous after all.
Yesterday saw a small but determined flashmob form outside the London offices of libel law firm Carter-Ruck. Carter-Ruck remains at the centre of a legal and political furore over the super injunctions understood to have been used by the firm to try to prevent reporting of its client Trafigura’s involvement in this story, as well as to prevent reporting of the Minton Report (which confirms the waste was dangerous). The participants in the flashmob wore gags to reflect their anger at Carter-Ruck’s sifling of free speech for the benefit of their client, who would rather punish those who reported its wrongdoing than take responsibility, apologise and make amends.
I’ll let Charlie Brooker kick things off:
WikiLeaks believes the Guardian was gagged to prevent it reporting the following parliamentary question:
- 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.
Want to read the Minton Report? Here it is. Its findings?
It’s all about Trafigura’s involvement with toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. I quote:
[But the] dozens of damning internal Trafigura emails which have now come to light reveal how traders were told in advance that their planned chemical operation, a cheap and dirty process called “caustic washing”, generated such dangerous wastes that it was widely outlawed in the west.
The documents reveal that the London-based traders hoped to make profits of $7m a time by buying up what they called “bloody cheap” cargoes of sulphur-contaminated Mexican gasoline. They decided to try to process the fuel on board a tanker anchored offshore, creating toxic waste they called “slops”.
One trader wrote on 10 March 2006: “I don’t know how we dispose of the slops and I don’t imply we would dump them, but for sure, there must be some way to pay someone to take them.” The resulting black, stinking, slurry was eventually dumped around landfills in Abidjan, after Trafigura paid an unqualified local man to take it away in tanker trucks at a cheap rate.
You are encouraged to express your thoughts here about an oil trader known to have committed an act of industrial pollution, using a libel law firm to prohibit reporting from parliament, on a report it doesn’t want you to know about.
UPDATE: Mr Justice Sweeney signed the gagging order.