Peter Hain and Biteback Publishing accused of contempt of court
1.30pm 27 March 2012
Statement by Biteback Publishing and Peter Hain
On 20 March 2012 Lord Justice Higgins granted leave to the Attorney General of Northern Ireland to bring proceedings for contempt of court against Biteback Publishing and Peter Hain. The proceedings relate to a passage in Peter Hain’s memoir, OUTSIDE IN, in which Peter Hain makes critical remarks about the Northern Irish judge, Judge Girvan (now Lord Justice Girvan), relating in particular to a 2006 Judicial Review case heard by Judge Girvan regarding the appointment of Bertha MacDougall as Interim Victims Commissioner.
According to the Statement filed by the Attorney General in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, the passages in the book "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" and publication of the passages "create without justification a real risk that public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined". According to the Attorney General, the contempt of court has been aggravated by public comments made by Mr Hain since the book was published. The Attorney General of Northern Ireland "accordingly considers it appropriate that the author and publisher of 'Outside In' should be punished for contempt of court".
The case is listed for review by the Divisional Court in Belfast on 24 April 2012. Biteback and Peter Hain are represented by RPC (firstname.lastname@example.org; 020 3060 6486) and Gavin Millar QC.
Biteback Managing Director Iain Dale comments:
"I am advised that proceedings for contempt for criticising judges have been considered obsolete in England and Wales since the end of the nineteenth century. Our lawyers are not aware of any such case having been brought in Northern Ireland in living memory. As a publisher I strongly support free speech, not least by our elected politicians, and we will therefore be vigorously defending this case.
As is normal in the case of memoirs of former cabinet ministers, we submitted the manuscript of the book to the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office for their comments in advance of publication. Neither office requested any changes to those parts of the book that relate to Judge Girvan."
Peter Hain MP comments:
"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. If free speech and comment in a political memoir is to be suppressed then people will be entitled to ask: what system of justice prevails?"