Challenge to Keays court gag

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The Independent Online
The Lord Chancellor's Department will today study the legal implications of parliamentary tactics used by a Labour MP to sidestep a High Court gagging order which prevents any publicity relating to the illegitimate daughter of Lord Parkinson.

Brian Sedgemore MP has tabled a House of Commons motion which states: "This House calls for a change in the law to prevent a gross denial of human rights as in the case of Sara Keays and her daughter." The child, Flora, aged 12, is handicapped after suffering from a brain tumour in infancy.

Mr Sedgemore's motion, which is protected by parliamentary privilege, states that Miss Keays and the child had been subjected to "a blanket gag on all publicity relating to a child who has fought a magnificent battle against the adversity of a brain tumour, frequent fits, eventual surgical removal of the tumour and a lengthy recuperation".

The motion further states that "the mother has every right now to fight for proper educational provision for her daughter using publicity to pursue her case".

Miss Keays is the former secretary of Cecil Parkinson, who was once regarded as the political heir apparent to Baroness Thatcher. In 1983, when Mr Parkinson was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, it was revealed that Miss Keays was carrying his child, and the ensuing scandal effectively wrecked the future Lord Parkinson's ambitions of higher political office.

After the birth of their daughter, on New Year's Eve, 1983, a number of legal battles were fought over publicity.

The latest order, made in the Court of Appeal just after Christmas last year, ruled that the gagging order on the child, now aged 12, must remain till she reached adulthood. She was also refused an appeal to the House of Lords.

Miss Keays has sought and received some of the best medical care in the world. It is understood that the child has made remarkable progress after the attention of renowned paediatric specialists outside the UK.

It is also understood, from sources, that a television film has been made of the child's treatment, which was said to be "very moving". Under the terms of the gagging order, however, it cannot be shown.

In addition to the attention of the Lord Chancellor's office, it is likely that lawyers representing Lord Parkinson will be studying Mr Sedgemore's motion.

The Labour MP, who is a qualified barrister, will know that his motion is effectively protected by the 1789 Bill of Rights which states that parliamentary proceedings "may not be impeached" by any court in the land. However, if challenged, the case could go on to be tested in the European Courts.

Neither Mr Sedgemore nor Miss Keays were available to comment yesterday.