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Judicial committee to investigate use of 'super injunctions'

A judicial committee has been set up to investigate the use of 'super injunctions', the gags on the press which newspapers are not even allowed to acknowledge the existence of.12 Apr 2010

The committee consists of judges, two press representatives, but also of two libel-specialist law firms which have attempted to use super injunctions, Carter Ruck and Schillings.

Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, will chair the committee, which will look into the controversial process, which only comes to light once successfully challenged in court.

A super injunction was used to try to suppress news of a parliamentary question related to oil trading company Trafigura and the alleged dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast. Carter Ruck represented Trafigura in that process.

Another was used by Schillings but overturned in relation to reports about the affair footballer John Terry had with the ex-girlfriend of his former friend and team mate, Wayne Bridge.

"The Master of the Rolls has set up a committee to examine the issues around the use of injunctions which bind the press and so-called ‘super injunctions’," said a statement from the Judiciary Communications Office. "This follows the recent report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report on press standards, privacy and libel and concerns expressed to the judiciary."

"We welcome the Speaker's determination to defend freedom of speech in Parliament, as well as the comments by the Lord Chief Justice on the Trafigura affair, and strongly urge that a way is found to limit the use of super injunctions as far as is possible and to make clear that they are not intended to fetter the fundamental rights of the press to report the proceedings of Parliament," said that Committee's report. "Given the importance of these issues, we hope that a clear statement regarding the way forward is made before the end of this Parliament."

That Parliamentary session ends today with no such statement. The Parliamentary Committee emphasised that no injunction or super injunction should interfere with the right of MPs to speak freely in Parliament or of newspapers to report to citizens the goings on in their Parliament.

"The free and fair reporting of proceedings in Parliament is a cornerstone of a democracy," it said. "In the UK, publication of fair extracts of reports of proceedings in Parliament made without malice are protected by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840. They cannot be fettered by a court order. However, the confusion over this issue has caused us the very gravest concern that this freedom is being undermined."

The Committee includes three judges, a barrister, legal executives from newspaper groups Guardian News and Media and Trinity Mirror and a representative of the Ministry of Justice.

The Parliamentary Committee said that there was much to be concerned about in the practice of issuing super injunctions.

"In particular, the Trafigura and Barclays cases raise issues over the use of injunctions for breach of confidence by companies which do not have [privacy] rights to defend, the ease with which they appear to be granted and the consistency of practice in the court system," it said.