Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 19:41 UK

Speaker defiant in 'gagging row'

Houses of Parliament
MPs are concerned about reporting of their proceedings

Commons Speaker John Bercow has defended MPs' freedom to choose the subject of debates amid an ongoing row over injunctions covering Parliament.

He was replying to a letter from lawyers Carter-Ruck ahead of a planned debate next week on the law and the reporting of Parliamentary debates.

The firm is acting for oil company Trafigura, which is at the centre of a row over so-called "super injunctions".

The Speaker said the Commons had the discretion to decide what it debated.


The controversy surfaced earlier this week when the Guardian said it was stopped from reporting a question by Labour MP Paul Farrelly about an injunction obtained by Trafigura and its lawyers.

The order was later changed and Carter-Ruck said there was "no question of Trafigura seeking to 'gag' the media from reporting parliamentary proceedings".

However, several MPs raised concerns about the issue in the Commons, particularly about the existence of so-called "super injunctions" which prevent reporting of both a story and the injunction itself.

I note your comments on the applicability of the sub judice resolution but this is a matter for the House
Speaker John Bercow

Tory MP Peter Bottomley said the order should never have been granted and he intended to report Carter-Ruck to the Law Society for seeking one.

MPs intend to debate the issue on Wednesday.

However, in a letter to the Speaker, circulated to all MPs, Carter-Ruck said that it believed the injunction was "sub judice" and that discussion of its could prejudice ongoing legal proceedings.

"Clearly, the question of whether this matter is sub judice is entirely a matter for your discretion," the letter said.

"Although we would observe that we believe the proceedings to have been and to remain "active" within the definition of House Resolution 194-195 of 15 November 2001 in that arrangements have been made for the hearing of an application before the Court."

The law firm stressed there had "never been any question of Trafigura applying for an injunction that had as its purpose the prevention of publication of any matter arising in Parliament".

But it was compelled to write the letter, it added, due to what it said was misreporting by the media and so "any future consideration of the matter by Parliament can take place on an informed basis".

Commons matter

In his reply, Speaker Bercow said he was "grateful" for confirmation that the injunctions were not designed to prevent the publication or reporting of information relating to Parliamentary proceedings, adding that the issue had created "considerable interest" among MPs.

Proceedings in Parliament must not be subject to interference from lawyers' letters or injunctions
Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem

He added: "I note your comments on the applicability of the sub judice resolution but this is a matter for the House and the discretion of the Chair which I am confident will be exercised so as to be fair to the interests of both parties in the litigation whilst preserving the right of the House to debate matters of public interest and concern."

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris said he hoped the debate next week would see the position clarified "so there is no doubt in the future that such legal threats are empty".

"The vital point is that proceedings in Parliament, and the fair and truthful reporting of them, must not be subject to interference from lawyers' letters or injunctions," he added.

On Wednesday Gordon Brown said the super injunctions were "unfortunate" and said justice secretary Jack Straw would look into them.

Commons leader Harriet Harman has also warned the courts off gagging journalists from reporting Parliamentary proceedings.

She said that it was up to the Speaker, or whoever was chairing a debate at the time, to decide what was said in the Commons.

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