Attorney General's warning over reporting of Parliament

Journalists are not neccessarily protected if they report comments made by an MP in the House of Commons which breach an injunction.

This was the warning issued by Attorney General Dominic Grieve at a speech given at City University last night.

He said: “The privilege to report Parliamentary proceedings, which is provided by the Parliamentary Papers Act and protects Hansard, does not necessarily extend to all publications which are not published by order of Parliament. It is likely that it does extend to a fair and accurate report of proceedings in Parliament. But just because something has been said does not mean it can be repeated out of context. It was still an open question whether something said in Parliament in breach of a court order could be repeated in the press.”

He added: “This question has yet to be authoritatively decided but will shortly be considered further by Parliament…But in the interim – writer beware.”

Grieve said that in recent months some MPs used Parliamentary privilege as a shield from behind which they disclosed details of injunctions imposed by the Courts.

While he recognised and would defend the privileges conferred by the Bill of Rights and the right of the of the House to regulate its own business, it was important to remember that the privileges were those of Parliament, not the individual member.

“It ill serves the Parliamentary process if court orders are openly flouted for no good reason,” Grieve said.

“It is not for a Parliamentarian to ignore the careful and measured approach of a Judge when deciding if an injunction should be granted.

“There are well established principles of comity between Parliament and the Courts and the House of Commons has resolved that the sub judice rule applies to proceedings which are active and they shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

“Parliament and the Courts should each be left to do their work without interference by the other – save in the most exceptional of circumstances.

“And, for the journalists amongst your number, a note of caution – it is still an open question as to whether something said in Parliament in breach of a court order may be repeated in the press.”

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