Skip to content

Lawyers attack press freedom by gagging journalists

Mon 2011-Apr-18 @ +08 02:37:55 am

New type of injunction could put journalists in jail, says British MP

by uppercaise
Injunctions, super injunctions, now hyper injunctions… Among the various enemies of the press have been the infamous trio of petty despots, bad laws, and big business. Now add lawyers to the mix.

In Britain this week, an MP has said that a new type of injunction (a gagging order) could now even lead to journalists being jailed, simply for asking questions.

This new legal threat to press freedom comes two years after lawyers for oil traders Trafigura, alleged to have dumped toxic waste in west Africa, tried to bury a centuries old right of the press to freely report from Parliament without fear of repercussion.

This right is enshrined in Magna Carta — the bedrock document of modern constitutional and democratic rights — which upholds the rights of the freedom of the individual from the tyranny of despots. From this great charter has sprung the streams of constitutional democracy in the English-speaking world. The right of parliamentary privilege was codified in the English Bill of Rights 350 years ago.

But in October 2009, Trafigura’s lawyers obtained a “super injunction” against the Guardian newspaper: it was not allowed to report that an MP had filed a question in Parliament, what the question was, who the MP was, which Minister was to answer it, who had obtained the injunction, and in connection with which case.

Even the court order itself, gagging the Guardian, was deemed to be a secret.

It was quickly defeated after an Internet campaign on Twitter by the Guardian’s editor.

Now the Guardian reports that an MP who is launching an inquiry into excessive and possibly unlawful court secrecy says a new type of gagging order could send journalists to jail, thus hampering the work of investigative journalists.

John Hemming of the Liberal Democrats said the new breed of injunction was used in relation to a case in the high court in London last week. Journalists could face jail simply for asking questions.

“This goes a step further than preventing people speaking out against injustice,” said Hemming, the MP for Birmingham Yardley and a longtime campaigner against secrecy. “It has the effect of preventing journalists from speaking to people subject to this injunction without a risk of the journalist going to jail. That is a recipe for hiding miscarriages of justice.”

Hemming has labelled the new gagging order the “quaero injunction” after the Latin word “to seek”.

“It puts any investigative journalist at risk if they ask any questions of a victim of a potential miscarriage of justice … I don’t think this should be allowed in English courts.”

There has been growing concern over the use of gagging orders in UK courts. It is not known precisely how many superinjunctions have been issued, but an informed legal estimate is that as many as 20 have been granted in the UK over the last 18 months.

Earlier this month, Hemming highlighted a new type of hyperinjunction which forbids the recipient talking to their MP.

He says he is now launching an inquiry in Parliament into excess court secrecy and is planning to collect a range of gagging orders that he will then analyse and present to the justice select committee in a number of “parliamentary petitions” later this year.

“What is clear is that almost all of the super-injunctions and hyper-injunctions have no public judgment,” Hemming said. “That means that they are not compliant with the rules for a fair trial. There is also the question as to whether there should be an automatic time limit on an interim order. Many cases have an interim order and no final hearing. This is clearly wrong.

“We also need to know what the costs are both for the applicant and for the media in defending these orders. It is wrong to have a system whereby people can buy the sort of justice they want. That is a contravention of clause 29 of Magna Carta 1297, which is still in force.”
The Guardian

Parliament and free speech: The right to know
» The Guardian: New breed of gagging order
» How many libel cases are there?


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: