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20 May 2011

Unfettered reporting of Parliamentary proceedings is not a clear right

A first glance at the Neuberger Report.

By David Allen Green

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:

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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.

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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