Monday 12 October 2009

Carter-Ruck versus the blogosphere

Guardian gagged from reporting Parliament is an astonishing headline on an astonishing story.

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.

The Guardian has vowed urgently to go to court to overturn the gag on its reporting. The editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "The media laws in this country increasingly place newspapers in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it. It is doubly menacing when those restraints include the reporting of parliament itself."

It is quite a mystery.

I have absolutely no information about this injunction than what The Guardian's David Leigh reports.

All we can confidentily say is that any injunction served on The Guardian could be about any "individuals or global corporations" whatsoever. For example, one has no way at all of ruling out the possibilities that this could somehow relate to Fabio Capello's annoyance at Robert Green's red card on Saturday; the Ukranian Football Association's response to the flares controversy, or perhaps the excellent Progress debate on primaries in candidate selection which I attended in Parliament tonight.

Having received no credible or verified information - nor indeed incredible and unverified information either - about any injunction myself, I am afraid that there the trail goes cold.

So we shall have to amuse ourselves while waiting for news.

I suspect that many other bloggers may enjoy a short game - maybe of solitaire - when struck by the frustrations of a mystery of this kind. Or, alternatively, by playing some harmless word association games - such as 'what has been the most interesting recent major news story' or 'which backbench MPs do you particularly look out for in Hansard' when you log on in the morning?


To veer off at a tangent, for some reason, that short report reminded me that I was rather impressed by some more extensive reporting which the same David Leigh of the Guardian undertook over the oil company Trafigura's shocking oil spillage in the Ivory Coast, over which the company was widely report to have recently decided to offer a £30 million settlement to 31,000 people affected. I recall that it was an interesting story because of the way the newspaper worked closely with Newsnight on some excellent investigative digging.

I found it offered considerably more for the reader to get one's teeth into than another Guardian report over Barclays tax affairs, where a gagging order led to several documents being removed from the internet, in theory and no doubt in practice too.

Meanwhile, Guido Fawkes is among those playing the favourite backbencher in Hansard game, flagging up a rather good question from Paul Farrelly MP, of Newcastle under Lyme, and a very good man, as I recall from briefly overlapping with him as colleagues at The Observer where he was City Editor prior to be elected to Parliament in 2001.

His guess, and your guess, are certainly as good as or better than mine. But barking randomly up various trees has its limits.

So I would be rather heavily in favour of The Guardian getting the provisions of the 1688 Bill of Rights back in place so we might also find out the news of what our Parliamentary representatives are discussing on our behalf.


Letters From A Tory said...

A truly bizarre incident. I have no doubt that the truth about what is being suppressed will eventually come out, but there's always some fun to be had in the meantime.

Stuart White said...

One aspect of this which interests me is the question of professional ethics. Whoever is behind this action shows a clear contempt for democratic principle - the freedom to report on what's happening in Parliament is pretty basic to democracy, indeed, perhaps even to the 'rule of law' itself. carter-Ruck will doubtless say that they are just pursuing their client's interests. But in any profession there must be some ethical limits on what you can do to promote your 'client's' interests. Is Carter-Ruck stepping outside of these limits?

Stuart White said...

Alex Massie at The Spectator makes the interesting point that there is no mention of this story on the BBC News website. Another example of questionable BBC News judgment?

Unknown said...

Now on the BBC site:

Stuart White said...

Thanks, kilvertrovic. Still, they took their time!

Matt Wardman said...

Did we need to be coy on this one?

It was in Hansard so we can report it, no?

sharon said...

These people are ruthless bullies. Using bullyboy tactics to gag those trying to get the truth out, on behalf of their high paying clients who get make their fortune by suing all and sundry.

Carter Ruck are as known to us Sue, Grabbit and runn.

Please sign the petition below to assist those who want to bring us the facts about the dis-appearnce of Madeleine Mccann