An unprecedented attempt by a British oil trading firm to prevent the Guardian reporting parliamentary proceedings collapsed following a spontaneous online campaign to spread the information the paper had been barred from publishing.
the law firm representing Trafigura, was accused of infringing the supremacy of parliament after it insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented the paper from reporting a question tabled on Monday by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly.
Farrelly's question was about the implications for press freedom of an order obtained by Trafigura preventing the Guardian and other media from publishing the contents of a report related to the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast.
Guardian was prevented from identifying Farrelly, reporting the nature of his question, where the question could be found, which company had sought the gag, or even which order was constraining its coverage.
But overnight numerous users of the
social networking site Twitter posted details of Farrelly's question and by this morning the full text had been published on two prominent blogs as well as in the magazine Private Eye.
Carter-Ruck withdrew its gagging attempt by lunchtime, shortly
before a 2pm high court hearing at which the Guardian was about to challenge its stance, with the backing of other national newspapers.
MPs from all three major parties condemned the firm's attempt to prevent the reporting of parliamentary
proceedings. Farrelly told John Bercow, the Speaker : Yesterday, I understand, Carter-Ruck quite astonishingly warned of legal action if the Guardian reported my question. In view of the seriousness of this, will you accept representations from me
over this matter and consider whether Carter-Ruck's behaviour constitutes a potential contempt of parliament?
The Commons question reveals that Trafigura has obtained a hitherto secret injunction, known as a super-injunction , to
prevent disclosures about toxic oil waste it arranged to be dumped in west Africa in 2006, making thousands of people ill. Farrelly is asking Jack Straw, the justice secretary, about the implications for press freedom of a high court injunction obtained
on 11 September 2009 by Trafigura on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura :
61 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): 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. (293006)
62 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will (a) collect and (b) publish statistics on the number of
non-reportable injunctions issued by the High Court in each of the last five years. (293012)
63 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what mechanisms HM Court Service uses
to draw up rosters of duty judges for the purpose of considering time of the essence applications for the issuing of injunctions by the High Court.
How super-injunctions are used to gag
Based on article from
Injunctions have become one of the most effective tools powerful individuals and corporations reach for when they want to silence the media. In their simplest form, they prevent news organisations from reporting what happens in
court, usually on the basis that doing so could prejudice a trial.
Super-injunctions that prevent news organisations from revealing the identities of those involved in legal disputes, or even reporting the fact that reporting restrictions
have been imposed, have emerged recently. They grew out of family cases and then developed further as a result of the privacy law that has come into being in the UK on the back of the right to privacy enshrined in the 1998 Human Rights Act, itself based
on the European convention on human rights.
That law has evolved through a series of high court rulings and was used by Max Mosley, the Formula One chief, last year to win damages from the News of the World when it revealed details about his sex
life. But this privacy law, welcomed by some as a way of protecting against tabloid intrusion, has further boosted the use of injunctions whose terms of reference are far wider than ever before.
Libel lawyers Carter-Ruck and Schillings have proved
adept at persuading judges that injunctions should now be granted on privacy grounds. Some tabloid newspapers are being served with a handful of such orders each week, according to media lawyers. The Guardian has been served with at least 12
notices of injunctions that could not be reported so far this year, compared with six in the whole of 2006 and five the year before.
Update: Injunction Lifted
October 2009. Based on article from telegraph.co.uk
A suppressed report which details how an oil company dumped toxic waste in Africa that may cause serious burns has now been released following a parliamentary row over freedom of speech.
The study commissioned just weeks after the incident in West
Africa concluded that the dumping would have been illegal under European pollution laws and suggests that the likely cause of the illness reported by locals was the significant release of potentially lethal gas.
The report had been
kept secret after Trafigura, one of the world's largest independent oil trading firms, obtained a super injunction that threatened the centuries-old privilege of newspapers to report what MPs can say freely in the Commons.
On Friday night,
as the High Court gagging order was lifted, senior figures at Trafigura admitted their approach may have been heavy-handed and insisted it had not been their intention to try to gag Parliament.