Big company uses law to suppress protest (no surprise in England)

This is called, in the US anyway, a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. I call it ‘legal terrorism’ because the whole point of it (and the company does not necessarily have to have any chance of winning its case) is to deter people from speaking out through the threat of legal costs and the general disruption and anxiety of being involved in a lawsuit. This is especially significant in England because the cost of legal representation is so high, and the laws are so much on the side of the plaintiffs, that even the mainstream media give into lawsuits that have no merit, particularly libel cases. Some US states have provided legal channels to strike down SLAPPs as SLAPPs deter people from exercising their rights of free speech.

George Monbiot has more on this here, and also points out that the public can inflict unintended consequences on companies that do this.

60 years: time to grow up

Republic is holding a demonstration in London on 3 June. I can’t be there, but this article, my membership and my financial support will, I hope, add my voice to the campaign.

I’m a bit older than the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. I can vaguely remember items of the celebration: a celebratory steel tin of chocolates, a visit to the local cinema and seeing in the film the Queen on a horse. What I can’t remember – because that was also early in my life – is how I came to feel there was something seriously wrong about having a single family provide the head of state. Like all ideas, it developed over a time, and since I was at school I have been committed to the idea that we should all be eligible to stand and to vote for our head of state (and of course for the second chamber too), just as for the current representative parts of our government system.

The monarchy is a thoroughly bad form of government – not only because of the unsuitability of the apparent heir, a symptom of the severe mental and emotional damage that the position inflicts on members of the family involved, but also because it tops an entrenched pyramid of privilege, secrecy and exclusion that broadens down to the rest of us at the base.

Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments over the years, and never heard anything remotely convincing in favour of monarchy.

The monarch is non-political – of course she bloody well isn’t, she is part of the political system and it couldn’t be any other way, not to mention Charles spending his wasted life secretly telling experts what they should be doing (and they won’t get a gong – a recognition that they can imagine they are a small part in the pyramid of privilege – if they don’t).

Other countries have worse political systems – well of course many do, but if democracy means anything then it should mean the right of people to propose a better system for themselves. Myself, I am still in favour of a parliamentary democracy (with improvements) and a constitutionally limited head of state, not the US system that so many people think that republicans must be in favour of.

It’s a long tradition – no it isn’t, this dynasty is 19th century, based on lots of invented pomp and flummery, and its current longevity depends entirely on having a stable and mature democracy. Monarchy was always about relatives scheming, fighting and if necessary killing each other to get the throne, and if you wanted your heir to succeed you damn well had to protect him. Now we have the democracy, let’s make it a democracy through and through.

The tourists come for the monarchy – let’s face it, how many tourists have seen the Queen, or expect to? (For that matter, when did I? About the age of 8, perhaps.) When we have an elected head of state we shall still have our history, buildings and, like many a republic, we can still have ceremonies and Guardsmen. We can even have a theme park in Windsor.

We could have President [name your least favourite public figure here] – that is democracy, but then you can desist from voting for him or her, and campaign for someone better. The rather more important matter is that everyone apart from certain members of one family is excluded from the job of head of state, and on simple statistical grounds it is clear that those excluded people include very, very many who would be far better suited for the position. I’ll nominate some if given the chance.

The weakness of the arguments for retaining the monarchy is telling. The rest of us will grow up and be full citizens if we have the right to vote for the person who reigns or rules over us.

I am glad to see that many younger people are now recognising this, and are organising to campaign for a representative head of state.

Calling all bloggers – Help beat the gag on the BBC

Reposted from Don’t Get Fooled Again:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.

Previously, other media outlets including the Times and the Independent, had withdrawn stories about the case, amid concerns that the UK press is choosing to engage in self-censorship, rather than risk a confrontation with such a powerful company in the UK’s archaic and one-sided libel courts.

The BBC is a dominant player within the UK media, and its independence – supposedly guaranteed by the millions it receives from licence-payers each year – is vital both to its public service function and its global reputation.

Freedom of speech means very little without an effective and independent media – if it’s true that the BBC’s independence can so easily be compromised by legal threats, then this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.

The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.

To help subvert this latest attempt to muzzle the press, please embed this video on your blog, and link to this PDF of the original story.

Sorry about merely reposting Richard Wilson’s words, time was short – but here is a link to the Minton report that Trafigura was so anxious to stop the world from knowing about.

Kill an oppressive injunction – pass it on

From The Guardian web site on 12 October 2009:

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

You can look it up in the parliamentary Order Book online, Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Tuesday 13 October 2009, no. 61:

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): 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.

Here is the background from the Guardian, and here is the same story covered by BBC Newsnight. These two defied Trafigura’s attempts to suppress the truth.

Updates: This is a link to the so-called Minton Report about the toxicity of the waste that was apparently dumped in Ivory Coast by contractors hired by Trafigura. It appears to be this information that Trafigura does not want people to know, but it is now in the public domain.

Petition to Number 10 here.

Carter-Ruck backed down.