Peter Hain will be breathing a sigh of relief today after the Northern Ireland attorney-general has dropped a legal action against the former Labour cabinet minister. This had involved a controversial chapter criticising a judge in a forthcoming book by Hain, who was Northern Ireland secretary.
Here is the statement from the attorney-general.
“These proceedings were taken to protect public confidence in the administration of justice. They were made necessary by a passage in Mr Hain’s memoirs and by Mr Hain’s refusal until now to reduce the risk to public confidence in the administration of justice arising from that passage. Had Mr Hain responded to the statement issued by the Lord Chief Justice or to our pre-action correspondence in the way that he now has, these proceedings would not have been brought. The effect of Mr Hain’s letter together with the letter from his publishers is to remove any real risk to public confidence in the administration of justice that arose from the passage in Mr Hain’s memoirs.
Citizens are entitled to have proper confidence in the administration of justice in this community. That confidence should not be improperly taken away or put at risk. In his letter to me Mr Hain has written of the integrity and independence of the judiciary in Northern Ireland and now very clearly disavows any imputation on judicial motivation or capacity within this jurisdiction.
In these circumstances I have concluded that as there is no longer any real risk to public confidence in the administration of justice, the public interest does not require that this litigation continues to judgment and I ask your Lordships, therefore, to make no order in these proceedings.”
Hain has meanwhile hailed the decision as a good day for free speech:
In September we will be publishing the paperback edition of Outside In without changing in any way the section that gave offence to some in the Northern Ireland judiciary.
‘We were fully prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary and our lawyers were confident of the outcome. But, after the astonishing decision to bring the prosecution, we are delighted that common sense has prevailed and that taxpayers have been saved a great deal of money in legal fees. The Attorney General said in court today that “there is no public interest in pursuing this prosecution”. In our view there never has been and it should never have been brought.
‘We have been deeply grateful for cross-party support from nearly 150 MPs and to David Davis MP and David Blunkett MP for leading on this. There is no doubt that the near unanimous condemnation of the planned prosecution demonstrates conclusively how preciously people guard individual liberty
‘We hope that this will mark the end of any ill-judged attempt in future to prosecute for the ancient offence of “scandalising a judge” and ask that the Government and the Supreme Court consider how it can be confined permanently to history.’