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Guardian banned from reporting Parliament question


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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.


Can't believe that someone has managed to ban the press from reporting parliament, in particular this is something that has to be legally put in publicly available House of Commons documents, and the question will be asked in parliament and thus shown on BBC Parliament's live feed. Besides, everyone will want to look now, whereas the chances are that most people would have missed this story without the injunction. I have the question available if people want to know, I understand the injunction has now been lifted, but I just want to check with admin first.

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OK, I've found confirmation in the Guardian that the injunction has been lifted, so it is safe to post:




Gag on Guardian reporting MP's Trafigura question lifted


The question from Paul Farrelly MP which was subject to a gagging order related to the Trafigura toxic waste scandal


The existence of a previously secret injunction against the media by oil traders Trafigura can now be revealed.


Within the past hour Trafigura's legal firm, Carter-Ruck, has withdrawn its opposition to the Guardian reporting proceedings in parliament that revealed its existence.


Labour MP Paul Farrelly put down a question yesterday to the justice secretary, Jack Straw. It asked about the injunction obtained by "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".


The Guardian was due to appear at the High Court at 2pm to challenge Carter-Ruck's behaviour, but the firm has dropped its claim that to report parliament would be in contempt of court.


Here is the full text of Farrelly's question:


"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."


Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, welcomed the move. He said: "I'm very pleased that common sense has prevailed and that Carter-Ruck's clients are now prepared to vary this draconian injunction to allow reporting of parliament. It is time that judges stopped granting 'super-injunctions' which are so absolute and wide-ranging that nothing about them can be reported at all."


At Westminster earlier today urgent questions were tabled by the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to get an emergency debate about the injunction.


Bloggers were active this morning in speculating about what lay behind the ban on the Guardian reporting parliamentary questions. Proposals being circulated online included plans for a protest outside the offices of Carter-Ruck.


The ban on reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds appeared to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.


Today's published Commons order papers contained Farrelly's question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian was initially prevented from identifying the MP who had asked the question, what the question was, which minister might answer it, or where the question was to be found.


The only fact the Guardian was able report was that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients including individuals and global corporations.


The media lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said Lord Denning ruled in the 1970s that "whatever comments are made in parliament" can be reported in newspapers without fear of contempt.


He said: "Four rebel MPs asked questions giving the identity of 'Colonel B', granted anonymity by a judge on grounds of 'national security'. The DPP threatened the press might be prosecuted for contempt, but most published."


The right to report parliament was the subject of many struggles in the 18th century, with the MP and journalist John Wilkes fighting every authority – up to the king – over the right to keep the public informed. After Wilkes's battle, wrote the historian Robert Hargreaves, "it gradually became accepted that the public had a constitutional right to know what their elected representatives were up to".

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Here is an explanation of what it is all about, basically this thread is a case of naming and shaming those that try to restrict personal freedoms:




Documents have emerged which detail for the first time the potentially lethal nature of toxic waste dumped by British-based oil traders in one of west Africa's poorest countries.


More than 30,000 people from Ivory Coast claim they were affected by the ­poisonous cocktail and are currently bringing Britain's biggest-ever group lawsuit against the company, Trafigura.


The firm chartered the ship, Probo Koala, which transported the cargo to Ivory Coast in 2006.


An official Dutch analysis of samples of the waste carried by the Probo Koala indicate that it contained approximately 2 tonnes of hydrogen sulphide, a killer gas with a characteristic smell of rotten eggs.


The documents have been obtained by the BBC. One chemist told BBC Newsnight last night that if the same quantity and mixture of chemicals had been dumped in Trafalgar Square: "You would have people being sick for several miles around … millions of people."


Trafigura, which claims to be one of the world's biggest independent oil ­traders, originally issued statements in 2006 denying the tanker was carrying toxic waste. It said it merely contained routine "slops" – the dirty water from tank washing. Executives of the company lined up to specifically deny that the waste contained any hydrogen sulphide.


It was put by the Guardian to ­Trafigura's lawyers with 24 hours notice that the company had been making wrong statements about the toxic waste. The firm's ­lawyers, Carter-Ruck, then asked to be given more time, until 5.30pm tonight. When 5.30pm passed, they asked for another hour. By 7pm, they still remained silent.


They issued a statement at 7.38pm saying: "We have no intention of descending into a detailed debate as to the chemical composition of the 'slops'." They said such matters would be resolved at the high court trial and that Trafigura's position was "the slops did not and cannot have caused the deaths and widespread illnesses which have been alleged".


In the long-running and bitterly contested lawsuit, Trafigura has currently offered to pay anyone from Ivory Coast who can prove the toxic waste actually caused them to fall ill. The claimants' lawyer, Martyn Day, the senior partner at Leigh Day, a firm which specialised in group actions, says this concession will prevent the evidence detailing the true history of the Probo Koala from coming out in court. The case is due to be heard in October.


Court hearings were held in secret ­yesterday, after allegations were made that Trafigura had been attempting to "nobble" witnesses to induce them to change their stories. Trafigura in turn claims that its employees face reprisals and even threats to their lives.


Mr Justice McDuff said: "This case has attracted much media attention and aroused strong feelings for many. ­However, I have acceded to an application to hold part of the hearing in private because on the evidence I have heard certain parties to the litigation have felt intimidated or threatened with reprisals."


He said the secret hearing involved "applications for witness anonymity and other witness protection".


A previous hearing had issued an injunction banning Trafigura from contacting any of the claimants. This followed the submission of evidence that one of the claimants had been flown business class from Ivory Coast to Morocco, put up at a luxury hotel, and offered money. The claimant said he had also been interviewed in the Morocco hotel by Simon Nurney, partner at ­Macfarlanes, Trafigura's solicitors.


Macfarlanes denied last night there had been any impropriety.


They said: "Macfarlanes has valid and exceptional legal reasons for agreeing to meet the individual referred to by the Guardian.  There was (and is) evidence that fraudulent and exaggerated claims were being made against our client.  We therefore had the right, and indeed duty, to investigate by interviewing the claimants.


"Macfarlanes arranged to meet the individual in Morocco.  Given the extreme sensitivity of any meeting between that individual and Macfarlanes, he specifically requested that the meeting should take place outside the Ivory Coast.  ­Macfarlanes were represented in Morocco by one of our partners, who acted with the full knowledge and support of the firm and the ­client.  This partner and another member of the legal team were present at the meetings in Morocco.  Macfarlanes paid the individual's travel and related expenses in relation to these meetings, but neither made nor offered any other payment or inducement."

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