Belfast Telegraph

Hain faces legal action over memoir

Former Cabinet minister Peter Hain faces contempt of court proceedings over strident criticisms he made of a judge in his memoir, its publisher has said.

Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin has been granted leave to prosecute both Mr Hain and Biteback Publishing over claims that the passage "undermines the administration of justice".

But the ex-Northern Ireland secretary vowed to defend free speech against what the publisher said was an arcane law banning criticism of judges that had not been used in living memory.

His remarks about Lord Justice Girvan's handling of a case caused controversy in Belfast when the book was published.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan described them as "potentially an assault on the wider independence of the judiciary".

An unrepentant Mr Hain, now shadow Welsh secretary and Neath MP, refused to back down and even renewed his criticism, sparking the legal action by Mr Larkin.

In a statement, the publisher said leave for the contempt action was granted last week by Lord Justice Higgins and is listed for review by the Divisional Court in Belfast on April 24.

The Attorney General's court submission claimed the remarks, concerning the appointment of Bertha MacDougall as interim victims commissioner, "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 that the risk had been exacerbated by the MP's later comments.

Mr Hain said: "I am astonished at this turn of events. I worked harder than anyone as secretary of state for Northern Ireland to uphold the rule of law and judicial independence and delivered the 2007 settlement which helped secure that."

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