Unfettered reporting of Parliamentary proceedings is not a clear right

A first glance at the Neuberger Report.

The Neuberger Report on superinjunctions, anonymised injunctions and open justice has just been published. The report is by a committee of senior media lawyers and judges chaired by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls.

Unsurprisingly, it shows that there have actually been few recent superinjunctions applied for or granted. They are and will continue to be exceptional. The report also gives short shift to the so-called "hyperinjunctions" that supposedly restricted MPs taking raising the cases of their constituents.

However, the report does find that there is a gap in the general right of the press to report on parliamentary proceedings. Unless the reports are covered by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 (which is fairly narrow), a press report which would otherwise break a court order appears not to be protected.

The report here states:

6.33 It therefore appears to be an open question whether, and to what extent, the common law protects media reporting of Parliamentary proceedings where such reporting appears to breach the terms of a court order and is not covered by the protection provided by the 1840 Act. What is clear is that unfettered reporting of Parliamentary proceedings (in apparent breach of court orders) has not been established as a clear right.

6.34 It is a matter of substantive policy whether Parliament wishes to clarify the law in this area, and it may well do so in the Defamation Bill, of which a draft is currently being considered by a Parliamentary Joint Committee, or in the proposed Parliamentary Privilege Draft Bill. It may be that the law will be clarified by the courts in due course. All this Committee can do is to say that, on the first question identified in paragraph 6.1 above, the law is quite clear, and, on the second question, it is not.

This blog will provide a fuller review later.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.