Today brings the lifting of the much-reviled injunction banning The Guardian from reporting on British parliamentary proceedings—specifically, we now know, on a question submitted yesterday, by Labour MP Paul Farrelly, to justice secretary Jack Straw. The gag order led to—along with much quite justified outrage—the following grafs in a Guardian report on the matter (grafs, by the way, which could quite possibly vie with The Bell Jar, Anna Karenina, the collected works of William Faulker, and Knots in My Yo-Yo String, the Jerry Spinelli autobiography, for the title of Most Depressing Text Ever):
The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.
Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.
The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.
The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.
The ‘clients’ in question, we now know, are the oil trading giant Trafigura—the subject of last month’s Minton Report, which alleged the company’s involvement in the dumping of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast. The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, was set to appear in court this afternoon to challenge the ban; before he could do so, Carter-Ruck lifted the injunction on behalf of Trafigura.
Below, the question in question:
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) - 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.
Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.