Defying yesterday’s ‘super injunction’ is a victory for the twittering classes

I’ve always thought that the libel lawyers Carter-Ruck sounded like a euphemism or, perhaps, a piece of forgotten cockney rhyming slang. Anyway, I’m delighted that they have dropped their attempt to prevent the British media from reporting on the proceedings of parliament. It is, in part, a victory for the chorus of twitterers that defied the ban yesterday. Only hours after the ruling was announced the full report as made available on Wikileaks and transmitted across the internet by hundreds of users of the microblogging site Twitter. Carter-Ruck, acting on behalf of the oil firm Trafigura, were attempting to prevent the Guardian reporting on a question tabled on Monday by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly.

The rule of prior restraint has been gaining ground in recent years, despite misgivings from European Court of Human Rights, as judges seem more willing to allow last moment injunctions against the publication of exposes. But the kind of injunction used on Monday (a so-called super-injunction) not only prevents publication, but also makes the injunction itself secret. It is a type of censorship that recalls Apartheid-era South Africa, when newspaper editors were not allowed to leave pages blank or blacked-out when they had been censored by the government.

Interviewed in the Guardian, Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, said:

“The injunction against the Guardian publishing questions to ministers tabled by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly is an example of a chill wind blowing more widely through the press. In increasing numbers, aggressive lawyers, who used to use libel law to protect their clients, are now using injunctions to secure privacy and confidentiality. They have found it is a legal technique which shuts stories down very quickly so that now it is not a question of publish and be damned, as it used to be: we are now finding that we can’t even publish at all.”