The Lawrence inquiry: Injunction is `clear breach of freedoms'

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GEOFFREY ROBERTSON, QC, an expert in media law and author of The Justice Game, said yesterday that the attempted injunction was a clear breach of freedom of expression.

"It seems to be a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression and information," he said. "The Spycatcher case in the European Court made clear that the Government - as distinct from a private plaintiff - should not obtain a breach of confidentiality injunction of this kind in respect of official information of great public importance unless it could prove that national security was at stake."

Mr Robertson said that he expected The Sunday Telegraph to seek damages.

Jonathan Caplan, QC, a leading barrister, said he could understood how the Government succeeded in getting an injunction. He said: "Although it is going to be published I suppose they [the Government] wants to set its own timetable for publishing the inquiry's conclusions. Until then the findings of the report are clearly confidential."

George Carman, QC, said he understood the benefit of keeping the report secret before its official publication. He said: "I can understand the good sense that the report is not made public before it is presented to Parliament. However, I expect that the report will shortly be made public and there will be no question of concealing its content from the public at large."

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer for the London firm Stephens Innocent, said he was alarmed that the judge granted the injunction in the first place.

"It was granted on the grounds the confidence of the report could still be protected. Hundreds of thousands of copies of The Sunday Telegraph's first editions were already distributed.

"Look at the principles enunciated in the Spycatcher case, which basically says if ... so many people have got the information or got access to it, then the law will not make an ass of itself where there is no confidence to protect."

Anthony Scrivener, QC, said he thought the injunction was fully justified. He said: "The Stephen Lawrence inquiry report was commissioned by the Home Secretary and was a report for Parliament. As far as I am aware it was not commissioned by the [Sunday] Telegraph."

Mr Scrivener said that publication of the report's contents was unfair to those whom it affected. He said: "Those who are criticised will probably have been warned already and when the report is replaced before Parliament they will have the opportunity to make a statement to the whole media and not just a reporter from one newspaper."

Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, hailed the report as a "milestone" in race relations. He said: "If these recommendations are right, then Sir William Macpherson and his colleagues have seized the moment. These opportunities do not come up too often and I think these recommendations would be a milestone in race relations in Britain.

"If these leaks are accurate, then I think the findings of pernicious institutionalised racism are long overdue.

"That has to be the starting point. We recommended to the inquiry that there should be changes to the National Curriculum to prevent racism; we are extremely pleased that has been taken up. It is also absolutely essential that the Race Relations Act is strengthened to include police, the immigration services and the Armed Forces."