Canaries down the free speech mine

On Tuesday I was quoted in a Belfast Telegraph report on the rise of super-injunctions in Northern Ireland.  Super-injunctions, you will recall, are those special types of gagging-order where the judge not only stops you from reporting certain facts, but also bars you from even telling anyone you’ve been censored.  As a rule of thumb, this tends to be a bad thing.

Robert Sharp from English PEN, a group which works to defend and promote free expression, said super-injunctions were deeply problematic:

“For the court to make a ruling, and then also to declare that the ruling cannot be made public, goes against the idea of open democracy and debate,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“We know that in the past rich multinationals have used super-injunctions to gag legitimate public interest journalism. Has this happened again in Northern Ireland? Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing.”

Last year it emerged that legislation aimed at reforming the UK’s outdated libel laws would not be extended to Northern Ireland after it was blocked by the Executive.

Mr Sharp said open debate must be protected.

“The super-injunction figure is a canary-down-the-mine: an early warning signal that all is not right with free speech in Northern Ireland,” he added.

“Last year the Stormont Executive failed to adopt the free speech provisions in the Defamation Act, so citizens of Northern Ireland are already living under more restrictive speech laws than the rest of the UK. The increase use of super-injunctions adds to this imbalance.

“MLAs need to act fast to protect open debate.”

I’m particularly chuffed with the ‘canary-down-the-mine’ analogy.

By ‘rich multinationals’ I am of course thinking of Trafigura.

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