Gordon Brown calls for reform of super-injunctions

• Justice secretary said to be investigating media bans
• Tory MP plans to report legal firm to Law Society

Gordon Brown today stepped into the row over the use of super-injunctions that ban reporting of a story and also the existence of the ban, telling MPs the legal tactic was "an unfortunate area of the law".

At prime minister's questions Brown said he wanted progress on "clearing up" the general problem and Jack Straw, the justice secretary, was, he said, personally conducting inquiries.

In a display of cross-party unanimity, Brown welcomed a question from Tory MP Peter Bottomley, who said he intended to report solicitors Carter-Ruck to their disciplinary body because of their applications for super-injunctions on behalf of their clients. Bottomley said: "No court should grant such an order and I intend to report the solicitors to the Law Society for asking for the injunction."

Bottomley's accusation followed criticism of Carter-Ruck the previous day by Labour MP Paul Farrelly, who tabled the parliamentary questions which Carter-Ruck tried to prevent being reported. Farrelly told the Commons the firm had potentially committed "contempt of parliament". Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have secured a more wide-ranging parliamentary debate next Wednesday. Evan Harris, a Lib Dem MP, is to speak on libel law and its impact on the reporting of parliament.

Today'sgovernment statements suggested that justice ministers are likely to be sympathetic to Lib Dem concerns, following anger across the political spectrum at what is being seen as a threat to one of the foundations of British democracy.

The original questions, tabled by Farrelly on Monday, revealed the existence of a super-injunction obtained last month against the Guardian by Carter-Ruck on behalf of Trafigura. the London-based oil trader. Trafigura, which has been at the centre of a toxic waste dumping scandal, wants to keep secret the contents of a confidential report commissioned by the oil trader and described as the Minton report.

After a hearing held in private followed by a judgment, which was not made public, the vacation duty judge, Mr Justice Maddison, granted Trafigura a ban on the Guardian from telling its readers about any of the contents of the Minton report. The newspaper was also banned from revealing the fact that an injunction had been issued.

This week Carter-Ruck, on behalf of Trafigura, tried to use the existing injunction to prevent the Guardian reporting the parliamentary questions, until they withdrew their opposition. MPs have had absolute freedom of speech within parliament since the Bill of Rights of 1689, and several reacted angrily this week to what appeared to be attempts to deprive them of their rights in the course of a private commercial litigation.

Farrelly is a member of the cross-party media committee that has taken evidence of concern about the use of super-injunctions. Some involve privacy or security in relation to individuals. But lawyers in recent cases have extended it to benefit commercial corporations.

This week's row has overshadowed the launch of a £4,000 Trafigura art prize, to be awarded next month, the latest in a line of PR initiatives by the oil trader, which paid out £30m last month to west Africans for flu-like symptoms they might have suffered following the dumping of toxic waste. According to PR Week Lord Bell, who heads Trafigura's PR consultants, insists his consultancy was not behind the decision to take legal action.

Last night Adam Tudor, of Carter-Ruck, released a letter he said he had circulated to the Speaker, every MP and peer. In it he said that although the firm had told the Guardian it would be contempt to report Farrelly's questions, and asked the Guardian to confirm they would not publish, the firm had also offered to take further instructions from their clients. He said: "We believe that response was entirely reasonable."


David Leigh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

How super-injunctions are used to gag investigative reporting
The Guardian has been served with at least 12 notices of injunctions that could not be reported so far this year

James Robinson

13, Oct, 2009 @9:18 PM

Article image
Free speech in parliament is precious, says lord chief justice

Lord chief justice declares principle is 'fundamental' and warns fellow judges on 'super-injuctions'

Alan Travis

20, Oct, 2009 @8:56 PM

Ministers to consider bolstering press freedom after 'super-injunction' debate
Justice officials to advise press lawyers on subject as MPs of all parties criticise use of gagging order

Allegra Stratton, political correspondent

21, Oct, 2009 @8:45 PM

Article image
Super-injunctions do limit freedom of speech, Speaker's lawyers advise

Guidance contradicts justice minister's claim that injunctions do not affect reporting rights under 1688 bill

Caroline Davies

06, Dec, 2009 @9:50 PM

MPs' 'super-injunction' debate to go ahead
Speaker schedules the debate citing the need to defend freedom of speech in parliament

Robert Booth

18, Oct, 2009 @7:12 PM

PCC chair attacks 'super-injunctions'

Lady Buscombe calls on government to curb use of super-injunctions and condemns them as 'anathema to democracy'

Chris Tryhorn

15, Nov, 2009 @8:00 PM

MPs debate effect of libel law on reporting of parliament

Following last week's row about a 'super-injunction' preventing the Guardian reporting a question in the Commons about the oil trading firm Trafigura, MPs today debate the effects of libel law on the reporting of parliamentary proceedings

Andrew Sparrow

21, Oct, 2009 @11:43 AM

Article image
Carter-Ruck in new move to stop debate in parliament
Law firm claims controversial injunction obtained on behalf of oil traders Trafigura is 'sub judice'

David Leigh

15, Oct, 2009 @9:20 PM

Article image
Trafigura drops bid to gag Guardian over MP's question

Attempt by British oil trading firm to prevent Guardian reporting parliamentary proceedings collapses

David Leigh

13, Oct, 2009 @8:42 PM

Minton report: Carter-Ruck give up bid to keep Trafigura study secret
Libel lawyers cave in over super-injunction on toxic waste report

David Leigh

16, Oct, 2009 @9:19 PM