Belfast Telegraph

Blunkett slams Hain legal action

A decision to launch contempt of court proceedings against former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has been described by ex-home secretary David Blunkett as "bizarre".

The first High Court hearing is due to begin on April 24 after the Attorney General John Larkin was granted leave to begin a legal action over criticism of Mr Justice Paul Girvan in Mr Hain's autobiography.

Mr Blunkett told the annual conference of the Political Studies Association in Belfast: "The notion that in Northern Ireland of all places, a former Secretary of State should be challenged under an ancient, little used and much discredited law of Scandalising the Court, is bizarre.

"I'm pleased that Geoffrey Robertson QC has agreed to take up Peter's case pro bono and to send a message which was reinforced some years ago by Lord Denning, that political free speech should include comment on reports which are no more free from democratic process than politicians who are constantly reminded that they too, are subject to the rule of law."

Mr Larkin has been granted leave to prosecute Hain and Biteback Publishing over claims a passage in his memoirs "undermines the administration of justice".

Mr Hain, now shadow Welsh secretary, vowed to defend free speech against what his publisher said was an arcane law banning criticism of judges, which had not been used in living memory.

His remarks about Lord Justice Girvan's handling of a judicial review case caused controversy in Belfast when the book was published. The lord chief justice, Sir Declan Morgan, described them as "potentially an assault on the wider independence of the judiciary".

Hain refused to back down and renewed his criticism, sparking the legal action.

The attorney general's court submission claimed the remarks "constitute unwarranted abuse of a judge in his judicial capacity that undermines the administration of justice in this jurisdiction, and consequently constitute a contempt of court".

Publication would serve to "create without justification a real risk that public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined", it went on, suggesting the risk had been exacerbated by the MP's later comments."

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