Guardian gagged from reporting Parliament

The Guardian was yesterday apparently hit with a wide-ranging injunction which forbids it from reporting a question from an MP to a minister published in a House of Commons order paper yesterday.

MPs have absolute privilege with regards to statements in the House of Commons, and media reports of Parliament have qualified privilege with provides a defence against libel actions.

According to the Guardian’s veteran investigative reporter David Leigh, it is the first time in memory that the paper has been prevented from reporting Parliament.

He writes today: ‘Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.”

The only hint the Guardian gives as to who is behind the action is the identification of the lawyers Carter Ruck, who it says specialise in suing the media for individuals or global corporations.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: ‘The media laws in this country increasingly place newspapers in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it. It is doubly menacing when those restrains include the reporting of parliament itself.”

Such wide-ranging gagging orders are usually only used in privacy or breach of confidence cases.

In March this year The Guardian was injuncted by Barclays Bank after publishing seven documents relating to tax avoidance services offered by the bank and banned by a High Court judge from publishing them.

Press Gazette has no information about the details of The Guardian injunction – but notes that among the questions tabled in Commons order papers yesterday was one by Paul Farrelly MP: “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.”

Press Gazette has, at time of writing, not received any notification as to whether or not we are too barred from reporting on any of yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Commons.

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