Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 18:23 UK

Parliamentary question gag lifted

The Guardian's Editor, Alan Rusbridger
The Guardian's editor said the decision was a victory for free speech

A law firm has abandoned a bid to prevent the British press from reporting proceedings in Parliament.

Carter-Ruck had tried to stop the media revealing that a Labour MP had tabled a question relating to oil-trading firm Trafigura and Ivory Coast toxic waste.

Paul Farrelly asked about an injunction stopping the publication of the Minton report into the waste issue.

Carter-Ruck argued an order stopping the media revealing this injunction also applied to Parliamentary reports.

The Guardian newspaper had been due to challenge the order in court later on Tuesday.

However, Carter-Ruck relented, allowing media to reveal that there is an injunction in place blocking the publication of the report, which was commissioned by Trafigura.

In the anarchic, anything-goes world of the internet, where freedom of speech is a frequently heard rallying cry, injunctions banning publication of anything are unpopular. This one seems to have acted like a red rag to a bull
Nick Higham, BBC News

Their decision came after the widespread publication of details of Mr Farrelly's question on internet blogs and the micro-blogging site Twitter.

However, the injunction on reporting the contents of the Minton report remains in place.

Mr Farrelly, who initially tabled the question to Justice Secretary Jack Straw, told the House of Commons that Trafigura had behaved "quite astonishingly" in seeking to prevent the reporting of parliamentary proceedings.

Responding to the decision, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said it was a "great victory for free speech".

Press freedom

Mr Farrelly's question was on the effects of injunctions on whistleblowers and press freedom in general.

The full text of Mr Farrelly's question is:

"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."

Despite the question being on Monday's Commons' order paper and on the Parliamentary website, the Guardian reported on Tuesday that it had been banned from reporting which MP asked the question, who the minister was, and why the gagging order was imposed.

Mr Rusbridger had said media laws were "doubly menacing" when applied to reporting of proceedings of Parliament - usually covered by qualified privilege.

This gives some legal protection when reporting statements which might otherwise be considered defamatory.

The injunction on reporting parliamentary proceedings appeared to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech which were established in the 1688 Bill of Rights.

It also prompted calls for a parliamentary debate on press freedom.

In the Commons, Mr Farrelly raised the issue on a point of order, saying it must be of "some concern" to the House.

Newsnight will report on this case and the prevalence of media laws being used by large companies to restrict information on Tuesday 13 October 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.




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