Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Saturday, 17 October 2009 10:10 UK

'Toxic waste' report gag lifted

The Guardian's Editor, Alan Rusbridger
The Guardian's editor called for an end to most "super-injunctions"

Lawyers for the oil trading company Trafigura have ended attempts to keep secret a scientific report about toxic waste dumping in the Ivory Coast.

The legal firm Carter-Ruck has written to the Guardian saying the paper should regard itself as "released forthwith" from any reporting restrictions.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger welcomed the move.

Trafigura said neither they nor Carter-Ruck had "improperly sought to stifle or restrict" debate and reporting.

An MP revealed the report's existence to parliament earlier this week after the Guardian was served with a "super-injunction" banning all mention of it.

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

Any newspaper trying to report Parliament should be in no doubt that they can
Alan Rusbridger
Editor, the Guardian

The legal firm relented before the Guardian challenged it in court - but the injunction on reporting the contents of the report remained in place until the latest announcement.

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

Mr Rusbridger told the BBC's Today programme that he hoped the matter of reporting Parliament had been cleared up.

"Any newspaper trying to report Parliament should be in no doubt that they can," he said.

He called for an end to most "super-injunctions", which ban not only the reporting of a story but also forbid the media to mention the existence of the injunction itself.

"I can see there are cases involving, say, some aspects of privacy or medical confidentiality, where the fact of the injunction remains a secret.

"But in a case when this was merely a case about embarrassment to a corporation, I really can't see why a judge should make those court proceedings secret."

The former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, agreed that a "super-injunction" should only be used in an "exceptional case".

Lord Goldsmith said he welcomed the fact that the justice secretary was going to look into the issue and said it could prove an opportunity to assess whether the laws are fit for purpose in the 21st century.

He said: "The internet, blogs, Twitter, actually mean that the power of the court to stop things being said is actually very limited anyway."

In a statement, lawyers for Trafigura said the company now "agrees that there is no longer any purpose in the injunction remaining in place".

It added: "Despite suggestions to the contrary in certain quarters, neither Trafigura nor Carter-Ruck has at any time improperly sought to stifle or restrict debate in Parliament or the reporting thereof."

'Unknown third party'

The statement said that Trafigura had learned in September 2009 that the draft report had been "unlawfully obtained by an unknown third party" and passed to the Guardian.

Twitter icon displayed on a laptop
The lawyers in this case clearly reckoned without the 'blogosphere'
Nick Higham, BBC News

It continued: "As The Guardian were informed, the draft report was confidential and subject to legal privilege. However, despite a number of requests, the Guardian refused even to confirm that it had the document, still less that it would not publish it.

"This left Trafigura with little alternative but to make a court application.

"At that point, the Guardian immediately undertook not to publish the draft report and gave undertakings, reflected in a court order. The Guardian has never attempted to argue that it would have been justified in publishing the draft report while the document remained confidential."

'Unfortunate area'

The affair has led to a political row, with Commons Speaker John Bercow insisting that MPs were free to choose the subject of debates.

Asked at Prime Minister's Questions to look at what can be done about legal bids to stop journalists reporting that gagging orders were in place, Gordon Brown said he hoped to "clear up what is an unfortunate area of the law".

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




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SEE ALSO
Speaker defiant in 'gagging row'
16 Oct 09 |  UK Politics
Commons in court gagging warning
15 Oct 09 |  UK Politics
PM asked to act on gagging orders
14 Oct 09 |  UK Politics
Parliamentary question gag lifted
13 Oct 09 |  UK Politics

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