Stephen Glover: This injunction shows a real lack of respect for the freedom of the press

Super-injunctions are much more oppressive than a traditional court order

Last week there took place a titanic clash of historic proportions between the courts and Parliament and the courts and the media. I would say Parliament won the battle, though not the war. The media secured only a partial victory, and the courts suffered only a setback.

The best news is that the widely loathed law firm Carter-Ruck overplayed its hand. It had already obtained a so-called super-injunction (of which more later) on behalf of Trafigura, a London-based oil trader which has been at the centre of a toxic waste dumping scandal in Africa. Last Monday the Labour MP (and former journalist) Paul Farrelly drew attention to this super-injunction in a question in the Commons. I should mention that it is not uncommon for newspapers to cooperate with sympathetic MPs in drawing up questions under the protection of Parliamentary privilege.

What happened then was unprecedented in modern times. Carter-Ruck tried to use the existing super-injunction to prevent The Guardian from reporting Mr Farrelly's question, thereby challenging the supremacy of Parliament, which most people believe was established by the Bill of Rights of 1689, and confirmed on subsequent occasions. Interestingly, The Guardian did not at first publish any mention of Mr Farrelly's question. A flurry of twittering on the net then drew attention to it, so that there was no longer any point in Carter- Ruck insisting on non-publication.

Several MPs and ministers then rightly got on their high horse. The leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, declared that parliamentary proceedings should not be subject to injunctions from the courts. She and others were batting on the wicket of parliamentary rights rather than the freedom of the Press, though in this instance they amount to the same thing. It does seem incredible that Carter-Ruck should have ever believed that the long established rights of Parliament could be overborne by the order of a judge, and seems to suggest that some lawyers do not have much respect for the democratic process.

On this occasion Carter-Ruck was seen off. Hurrah! But the device of the super-injunction is still being very widely employed. Just because this particular super-injunction involving Trafigura has been revealed in Parliament, we should not suppose that every future super- injunction will be. The Guardian claims to have been served with at least 12 of these orders so far this year. Other newspapers report an increase. As a result of the activities of libel firms such as Carter-Ruck, super-injunctions are pouring out of various judges, some of whom are either pliable or have little respect for the freedom of the Press.

Super-injunctions are much more oppressive than a traditional court order which prohibited a media organisation, sometimes for a limited period, from publishing a particular allegation. A super-injunction means that no one can report that an order has been granted or applied for. Its very existence must remain a secret. For example, last year the broadcaster Andrew Marr won an injunction not only to prevent the media from revealing particular private information about him but also to stop them from even mentioning that they had been gagged. Private Eye succeeded in getting the order varied to the extent that its existence can now be mentioned, though not the information that gave rise to it.

There are doubtless many super- injunctions in existence that relate to information of far greater public interest than that which concerns Mr Marr. Trafigura would appear to be one. The company does not want a report into its affairs published and, notwithstanding last week's dramas, it still has not been in the mainstream media. All sorts of important information is being kept from us, and we don't even know that it is being withheld. As the media lawyer, Mark Stephens, puts it: "As the libel and privacy capital of the world, people are coming here [to London] to bully the media and NGOs into not reporting their nefarious activities."

Super-injunctions grew up out of the secretive family courts, and have developed as a result of the privacy law enshrined in the 1998 Human Rights Act. The proliferation of internet sites which disregard contempt laws and are outside the jurisdiction of the English courts has had the perverse effect of making judges more draconian in their orders against our home-grown media.

Last week Gordon Brown referred to super-injunctions as "an unfortunate area of the law," and said that he wanted progress on "cleaning up" the general problem. But what? It is no good looking to the judges to behave themselves. Parliament may have won a single battle with the courts over the issue of its own privileges, but it continues to allow judges to develop a privacy law that has no democratic mandate, and is being used against the public interest.

Not only the likes of Andrew Marr, but also the Trafiguras of this world, are granted protection as a judge-made privacy law advances by stealth. Every newspaper, from the sleaziest tabloid to the most high-minded broadsheet, is in the same boat. Our media are the most muzzled in the free world and, until or unless Parliament decides to act, things will only get worse.

We must be careful not to sink to the BNP's level

There will be an almighty brouhaha this week over the BBC's controversial decision to invite the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, on its Question Time programme. One does not have to be a member of Unite Against Fascism, which is planning to blockade BBC Television Centre to prevent Mr Griffin gaining access on Thursday, to be disturbed by the prospect of his appearance.

The truth is that the BBC had no choice. The BNP scraped two seats in the European Elections (supporters of proportional representation, please take note) and therefore enjoys democratic representation. Question Time is the BBC's most important current affairs forum, and I daresay the BNP would have had a strong legal case if its elected leader had been permanently excluded from the programme.

Some argue that it is a good thing for Mr Griffin to be put on the spot since the nastiness and extremeness of his views will be exposed. I hope so, but I wouldn't be certain. Mr Griffin, who is by no means stupid, is adept at concealing the dark side of the BNP, and appearing almost reasonable. Be prepared for a suave and measured performance.

We should beware of descending to his level, which is what he would like us to do. If it succeeds in keeping him out of Television Centre, Unite Against Fascism will be offending against the principle of free speech, and if it uses violence it will only help the BNP's cause. Equally, I would advise the panellists, who have bravely agreed to appear alongside Mr Griffin, not to gang up on him in an overbearing way. That might win him sympathy.

The BNP leader may give quite a good account of himself on Thursday, but the more his party is calmly and forensically scrutinised by the media, the weaker its appeal will be.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
election 2015
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal for Real Madrid against Juventus
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
voicesArmando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power