Index on Censorship and English PEN today welcomed MPs’ robust response in this afternoon’s adjournment debate to law firm Carter-Ruck’s challenge to Parliamentary reporting, and called on them to strengthen the public’s right to information by banning the use of so-called “super injunctions” except in extreme circumstances.
Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship, said: “The widespread use of super injunctions is a serious threat to media freedom in this country — and to the fabric of open democracy. It is essential that this debate marks the beginning of reform, so that individuals and companies are no longer free to gag the press and prevent information that’s clearly in the public interest from coming under scrutiny.”
Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said: “The rights of Parliament are the rights of citizens. Unless Parliament is free to debate everything that MPs believe to be important, it can’t do its job properly. And unless the public is free to know what Parliament is talking about, we have closed government. Super injunctions compromise democracy and should be banned, except in extreme circumstances.”
MPs from the three main parties voiced their concerns about super injunctions and the impact of English libel law on free speech in an adjournment debate called by Evan Harris MP in the wake of the Trafigura affair, in which the law firm Carter-Ruck argued that a “super-injunction” prevented the media from reporting on a Parliamentary question asked by Paul Farrelly MP.
They wrote to the Speaker of the House on 14 October suggesting that the issue might also be out of bounds for Parliament. Carter-Ruck withdrew the injunction in the wake of a global internet campaign.
During the debate, Denis MacShane MP called for the partners of Carter-Ruck to be called to the Bar of the House of Commons to account for their attempts to ‘subvert Parliamentary democracy.’
MPs commended the work of Evan Harris, English PEN and Index on Censorship in raising awareness of the failings of English libel law.
Paul Farrelly MP asked for a return from the “rule of lawyers to the rule of law”. Peter Bottomley MP asked for all injunctions to be logged openly in order to allow proper parliamentary oversight of the courts. John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said how MPs on the Committee had received threatening letters from solicitors. These had been described by the Speaker’s Counsel as “improperly interfering with the work of Parliament”.
David Heath MP asked the government to confirm that the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, which grants the media the right to report on everything in Parliament, is still in force.
Responding to the debate, Bridget Prentice, Minister for Justice, said: “It is not possible to fetter Parliament”. She confirmed that the advice given by Carter-Ruck in their letter of 14 October to the Speaker was incorrect. She said: “we are very concerned that super injunctions are being used more frequently, especially in libel.” And she confirmed that the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 was still in force.
Prentice promised further guidelines on the use of super injunctions and agreed that defamation law “needs to be tightened up”.
She stated that the government would abolish the antiquated laws of criminal libel, obscene libel and seditious libel in an amendment to the Coroners & Justice Bill in response to pressure by Index on Censorship, Article 19 and English PEN.