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Malcolm Coles: Carter Ruck’s new attempt to gag Parliament

October 16th, 2009Posted by in Journalism, Legal, Press freedom and ethics

A version of this post first appeared on MalcolmColes.co.uk.

Having failed to stop the Guardian reporting an MP asking a question about its client British oil company Trafigura and the injunction concerning the Minton report, law firm Carter-Ruck is making a second attempt to gag Parliament.

The firm has written a 3-page letter to the speaker of the House of Commons – in the middle of which are these two paragraphs:

“Until that resolution [of the matter referred to in the injunction], it is not appropriate to comment on the Order [the injunction], other than to make it clear that we and our clients are in no doubt that it was entirely appropriate for us to seek the injunctive relief in question …

“Clearly the question of whether this matter is sub judice is entirely a matter for your [the speaker's] discretion, although we would observe that we believe the proceedings to have been and to remain ‘Active’ within the definition of House Resolution CJ (2001-02) 194-195 of 15 November 2001 in that arrangements have been made for the hearing of an application before the Court.”

The resolution, which is subject to the discretion of the Speaker, being referred to says this:

Matters sub judice

Resolution of 15th November 2001

Resolved, That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:

(1) Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

(b) (i) Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.

So although it is not spelt out in the letter, Carter-Ruck has written to the speaker to suggest that this matter is sub judice – active legal proceedings – and should not therefore be discussed in Parliament, according to the Westminster rules which prohibit MPs’ debates in those circumstances.

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP had secured a debate for next week looking at the effects of English libel law on the reporting of parliamentary proceedings.

The speaker has not yet indicated whether he will provide a ruling.

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