Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The Guardian today tries to report that as a result of a court case, it has been forbidden from reporting on certain matters in Parliament:

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.

This is simply ridiculous. Firstly, there is a longstanding principle in the UK that Parliamentary privilege extends to reporting what happens in the House, and that comments made in Parliament can be reported without fear of contempt. And secondly, all of the above is a matter of public record. For example, anyone can go to the UK Parliament page, look at the future business for the House of Commons, grep the question book for the rest of the week, and learn that on Tuesday Newcastle-under-Lyme MP Paul Farrelly has a series of questions for the Secretary of State for Justice on suppression orders and press freedom, one of which specifically mentions Carter-Ruck solicitors and its corporate criminal client Trafigura.

(Just doing my bit for the Streisand effect...)

People in the UK have a democratic right to know this: to know that the question is being asked, and what, if anything, the response is. But thanks to the UK's repressive libel laws, their democratic right to know what is going on in their own Parliament can be suppressed by anyone rich enough to afford an expensive lawyer. And that is unacceptable in a democracy.

Fortunately, these days we have the internet and a free market in legal jurisdiction. Which makes such orders unenforceable in practice. And the rich and powerful had better start getting used to it.