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.