Friday 16 October 2009

A few tweets defeat super-injunction

The super-injunction has received a blow this week following a spontaneous online campaign on the social networking site Twitter, which, overnight, spread and disclosed information that a newspaper had been barred by the High Court from publishing.

Julia Lowe, head of Higgs & Sons’ dispute resolution team, says the furore from the case will bring even more questions about super-injunctions.

She said: “It all started with Labour MP Paul Farrelly tabling a parliamentary question about the oil traders, Trafigura, in relation to press freedom.

“Trafigura had obtained a super-injunction preventing the Guardian and other media outlets from publishing the contents of a report relating to the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Mr Farrelly tabled a question relating to press freedom. The Guardian decided to seek to vary the injunction to allow it to report on the parliamentary question. Trafigura was set to oppose this on the basis that the terms of the super-injunction would be breached which would amount to contempt of court.”

Overnight on Monday 12th October 2009, numerous users of the social networking site Twitter and other such sites, posted details of the question which had been tabled by Mr. Farrelly, and by the morning of 13th October 2009, the full text of his question had been published on two prominent internet blogs, as well as in the magazine ‘Private Eye’.

Shortly before 2.00 p.m. on 13th October 2009, lawyers Carter-Ruck therefore withdrew its opposition to The Guardian’s reporting of the parliamentary question.

Julia says that prior to this case, the use of the super-injunction had been growing. “The super-injunction is relatively new but its use by large corporations or individuals wishing to keep secret the fact that they had even been to court to obtain injunctive relief has been growing. News organisations may be prevented from revealing the identities of the parties involved in the legal dispute, or even from reporting the fact that reporting restrictions have been imposed.

“In the Trafigura case, the question tabled by Mr. Farrelly, was found on parliament's web site and was printed on the House of Commons’ order paper and available online within minutes. This demonstrates the futility of attempts to keep such information from public view.”

Trafigura’s legal action has now backfired. The allegations that it wished to keep out of the media spotlight are now more high profile than they would have ever been and a debate is now raging about the future of the super-injunction. The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, is now reported to be looking closely at this particular breed of injunction.

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