/ 14 October 2009

British probe after Twitter helps lift legal ‘gag’

British premier Gordon Brown on Wednesday acknowledged an ”unfortunate” legal grey area after Twitter users helped thwart a controversial reporting ”gag” granted to an oil company.

The issue was raised with Brown in the House of Commons after the Guardian newspaper said it had been barred from reporting a parliamentary question on Trafigura when the firm’s lawyers Carter Ruck obtained a court order.

The article provoked a surge of outrage on the internet this week, particularly on micro-blogging website Twitter, where many users posted links to the question. The order was later amended.

The issue has now been raised in Parliament, revealing fury among lawmakers who fear the concept of parliamentary privilege — which allows them to raise sensitive issues without fear of facing legal action — could be threatened.

Last month, Trafigura agreed to pay £30-million to people who suffered as a result of toxic waste dumped in Cote D’Ivoire.

”The Justice Secretary [Jack Straw] has talked to the parties concerned and is looking into this issue,” Brown told lawmakers.

”I hope that … progress can be made not just in this case but more generally to clear up what is an unfortunate area of the law.”

The Guardian said on Tuesday it had been ”gagged” by the court order but in response, Carter Ruck said: ”There is no question of Trafigura seeking to gag the media from reporting parliamentary proceedings and the parties have now agreed to an amendment to the existing order so as to reflect that.”

The parliamentary question at the heart of the row was by a lawmaker from Brown’s ruling Labour Party, Paul Farrelly, asking Straw his view on an injunction by Trafigura on a report on the
Cote D’Ivoire incident. — AFP