Saturday, December 12, 2009

Libel: The Silencers - Britain's infamous libel laws under increasing scrutiny

Britain's infamous libel laws are coming under increasing scrutiny following yet another high profile "gag".

Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent for The Guardian reports in article entitled
Tiger Woods uses English law to injunct new revelations, "Tiger Woods has won an injunction banning the English media from publishing new details about his personal life, after instructing London-based lawyers to take legal action. The move, described by lawyers as "unbelievable", prevents the media from publishing material that the US media would be able to publish, prompting further anger about the ability of foreign litigants to take advantage of repressive English laws." (see Britain's libel tourism "threatens the principles of free speech).

The article quotes media lawyer Mark Stephens who said, "This injunction would never have been granted in America" adding, "It's unbelievable that Tiger Woods' lawyers have been able to injunct the UK press from reporting information here"

Sadly, no it is no longer unbelievable.

It is alleged Britain's draconian laws are used to protect the rich, famous and powerful while financially benefiting, "The Silencers" such as law firm Carter-Ruck, who have great influence over what the British public sees.

Carter-Ruck for example act on behalf of clients such as disgraced parents Kate and Gerry McCann, famous for leaving three children unattended every night of a family holiday, and whose critics are often silenced should they dare to offer an opinion.

Dr McCann and his retired wife Kate, have from the very start of the Madeleine McCann tragedy, sought to protect their reputations and public image by utilizing the services of high profile, highly expensive lawyers such as Carter-Ruck, who have a fearsome reputation for getting results in their specialized field, while at the same time hiring second rate private investigators, many of whom have dubious and questionable backgrounds and no acceptable proven track record in the field of locating missing persons, to search for their missing daughter.

Carter-Ruck also acted on behalf of Trafigura, (see Daily Telegraph) the company behind the infamous Ivory Coast toxic waste scandal, in which former McCann private investigator Kevin Halligen, indicted by the FBI over alleged, "wire fraud and money laundering" played a key role.

The indictment alleges that "from November 2006 to January 2007, Halligen engaged in a scheme to defraud a London-based law firm of $2,100,000" (FBI's Washington Field Office).

The Trafigura affair has been detailed on this blog and can be read by clicking on the appropriate labels below. The United Nations reports that according to official estimates, 15 people died, 69 people were hospitalized and over 100,000 others, complained of nausea and vomiting after inhaling fumes, sought medical treatment after the incident.

Trafigura is not the only controversial case Carter-Ruck have been involved in.

In Dec 2008 Hansard reports Norman Lamb MP, (Liberal Democrat) raising the issue of Nadhmi Auchi, a British citizen (an Iraqi exile) reported to be a multi-billionaire -

"He was convicted in France in 2003 of fraud in a trial involving the oil company Elf. Importantly, he continues to assert his innocence of the charges—there was a conviction, but he is pursuing routes of appeal against it. He was barred from entering the United States in 2005. My interest in the matter is in his connections to Tony Rezco, who was convicted of fraud, money laundering and bribe-related charges in Illinois, and who is currently in prison pending sentencing.

We understand that sentencing has been delayed, and it has been suggested that he should talk to federal prosecutors, especially about allegations against Illinois Governor Blagojevich, which are being investigated.
There have been reports that a company related to Mr. Auchi registered a loan of $3.5 million to Tony Rezko on 23 May 2005. That and other alleged connections are obviously of great interest to investigative journalists and others. More to the point, it is legitimate to investigate such a matter, given that Mr. Auchi is a prominent British citizen with political connections in this country and overseas. As I said, it is not appropriate to go into more detail, but it is alleged that Mr. Auchi and his lawyers, Carter-Ruck, have been making strenuous efforts to close down public debate".

Mr Lamb went on to add, "It has been reported in the US that Carter-Ruck has been writing to US and British newspapers and websites demanding removal of the material that it deems defamatory of its client. Many are concerned about the fact that creating a link on a blog to a newspaper article, which may have been available for several years to anyone searching the internet, can result in action being threatened or taken. Is that legitimate?"

However, cases such as the Trafigura gag in which a "super injunction" was used by Carter-Ruck to ban the reporting of an injunction, can have unexpected positive results.

Mr. Hirsch reports, that although the injunction obtained by Woods, prevents publishing details of the photographs, it marks a move away from super injunctions.

The article cites Gavin Millar QC, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, as saying, "I suspect the Trafigura case has had something to do with this," adding, "The whole question of whether they and judges are using their power in private hearings is very important, and they are now much warier of making super injunctions."

Of course in theory the existing libel laws protect every UK citizen. However, it is rare to see an injunction or super-injunction issued on behalf of John and Jane Doe. Lacking the corporate wealth of companies such as Trafigura, and unlike Kate and Gerry McCann, unable to call upon wealthy backers and a speedily established fund, they are unable to buy protection from public scrutiny and unable to buy a media-friendly image.

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