People power 1, Carter-Ruck and Trafigura 0

Carter-Ruck, the solicitors who specialise in sueing the media, have partially backed down in their efforts, on behalf of a client who could not be named for legal reasons, to stop all reporting of issues which could not be disclosed – including a Parliamentary question.

The Guardian – which, like the FT and others, had been gagged by legal proceedings we were not allowed to identify – was due to challenge the case in court when Carter-Ruck agreed to modify the restrictions.

The company mentioned in the Parliamentary question can now be identified as Trafigura, the oil trader, although anyone reading the political blogs or using micro-blogging site Twitter – where the issue quickly dominated discussion – already knew all about it, as bloggers had not been targeted by the legal proceedings.

The full written question, lodged by Paul Farrelly, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, yesterday, was:

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

The reports mentioned in the question are on the internet, but I can’t tell you where, as much of the gag remains in place.

Let’s hope Jack Straw, secretary of state for justice, listens: the trend towards ever-wider gagging orders gives big companies and the rich and powerful yet another way to strangle investigative journalism – as if the overly-restrictive libel and confidentiality laws were not bad enough.

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.