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Posts Tagged ‘tony baldry

Tony Baldry MP – a correction

with 6 comments

One of the more amusing libel threats I’ve had since starting this blog came in 2010, on behalf of Tony Baldry MP, who at the time was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Banbury (he is now Sir Tony Baldry, the Member for North Oxfordshire).

Mr Baldry had taken exception to a blog post I had written about his dealings with a notoriously-corrupt Nigerian politician, James Ibori. So concerned was the Honorable Member that he deployed the services of the media law firm Olswang to make his concerns known. Here’s the “Strictly Private and Confidential” letter they sent to WordPress, cc-ing me.

Since then, James Ibori has been convicted by the UK courts of money-laundering on an epic scale.

Following a Freedom of Information request to the UK Foreign Office, I recently obtained a copy of the letter that Tony Baldry had sent in 2009 to the then Foreign Secretary, in which he raised concerns about the “draconian” freezing of James Ibori’s assets by the UK courts.

Due to a failure of file-format savvy at my end, and a lamentable over-reliance on MS Paint, I had initially thought, wrongly, that the Foreign Office had only sent me the first page of the letter – and wrote a somewhat tetchy blogpost.

In fact, they had sent me the entire thing, barring a couple of redactions.

The letter paints an intriguing picture of Tony Baldry’s work on behalf of James Ibori. Sir Tony has been at pains to point out that he wrote it in his capacity as a barrister, not as an MP. He also insists that he was not “lobbying” on Ibori’s behalf, and that he acted entirely appropriately.

I’m publishing the letter in full here (PDF converted from TIF), so Mr Baldry’s constituents can decide for themselves what they think of their MP’s second-job activities.

Private Eye also have a copy of the letter, and have published their take on it in this week’s edition.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

A response from Tony Baldry MP

with 4 comments

I’m grateful to Tony Baldry MP for providing the following response to a number of questions I put to him last week:

Dear Mr. Wilson,

Thank you for your email.

I think it may be helpful if I make a number of points.

Firstly, I have sought to respond promptly to any letters or emails that are sent to me on this matter.   However, my experience is that organisations such as the Nigerian Liberty Forum and Rally for Nigeria either claim that they have never received my responses, or simply ignore the contents.

Part of my frustration with the Independent on Sunday was that the journalist concerned made no proper effort to get in touch with me, or to put to me the matters which were going to become allegations in his article.  This hardly strikes me as being responsible journalism.

I think it is also fair to observe that notwithstanding the Independent on Sunday’s apology and correction, again, without making any attempt whatsoever to get in touch with me, you simply sought to repeat  the IOS’s earlier allegations which were untrue and defamatory.

I have no quarrel with political blogs.  I believe they serve a genuinely useful purpose in making our politics more vibrant, but I see no justification for bloggers, particularly those who are journalists like yourself, simply repeating allegations which the newspaper concerned has acknowledged were incorrect.

Incidentally, it was not my intention that your blog should be removed;  simply that the defamatory material should be removed.

As I had not had the opportunity prior to publication of discussing the issues with the journalists concerned, my objective was simply to ensure that there was a correction printed as soon as possible based on the facts.

I have not read your further blog.  I think that the Olswang letter, which is now available on the internet, together with the correction from the Independent on Sunday, reflect a fair and accurate statement of the facts.

As I have repeatedly made clear, I have taken no action in this matter as a Member of Parliament.  My locus has been as a barrister, properly instructed.

Attention has focused on the letter that I wrote to the Foreign Secretary.  Various allegations have been made against me, all of which are untrue; it has been said that the letter sought to persuade the Government to discontinue the prosecutions at present being undertaken at Southwark Crown Court – untrue.

It has been suggested that the letter sought to persuade the Government/prosecuting authorities to discontinue the investigation into James Ibori  –  untrue.

It has been suggested that I advised that any investigation into Mr. Ibori should be discontinued as being detrimental to British interests – again, untrue.

I understand that an application has been made under the Freedom of Information Act to the Foreign Office for disclosure of the letter  and this, I understand, has been refused by the Foreign Office on the grounds that its release could be detrimental  to relations between the UK and another Government and also that its release could be detrimental to the administration of justice, and as a member of the Bar, I  think I would be quite rightly open to criticism if, given those conclusions by the Foreign Office, doubtless in consultation with the Office of the Attorney-General, I was to publish the letter myself.  That matter, as I understand it, is now before the Information Commissioner for him to decide.

However, I think that you and organisations such as the NLF, might like to reflect on the motivation and tactics of whoever “leaked” the existence of this letter to the NLF.

If they had thought that I had done something untoward, as a Member of Parliament , they could presumably have “leaked” the whole letter, or acted in such way as that the letter could have been made available to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who regulates the conduct of Members of Parliament.  Indeed, the day after the IOS’s article was published, I immediately sent the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards a copy of  the letter myself.

So those who “leaked” the existence of the letter, chose to leak what were clearly selective, inaccurate, and untrue assertions as to its contents.

So, for example, the NLF at the outset were clearly convinced that the purpose of my letter had somehow been to interfere in the existing trial of defendants at Southwark.  But as I have explained to organisations such as the NLF, and Rally for Nigeria, way back in February, so far as the Southwark proceedings were concerned, my letter stated in terms “I do not represent any of these defendants, and am in no way involved with their defence, and of course the conduct of that case is a matter for the Crown Court”.

Moreover, I do somewhat have the impression that whatever the facts in this case, and however often I respond to queries,  there is a determination to try and find something untoward.  So, for example, I understand that you have made a request to the Foreign Office, under the FOI, for a copy of the envelope in which the letter was sent.  I hope they still have it, as it will show that it is a perfectly normal white envelope !

I repeat.  At no time has my involvement in this matter been as a Member of Parliament, but as a barrister.

As a Member of Parliament, I am under the rules of the House, obliged to make a number of declarations in the Register of Members’ Interests with regard to any outside interests.  This I have fully done.

Finally, as a general point, it has always been a valued tradition of the English Bar, that the English Bar will properly represent and give the best possible advice to anyone involved with the English criminal system, irrespective of the allegations being made against those individuals.  As far as I am aware, we have never had a situation in England where journalists and the media have sought to attack Members of the Bar because of the clients they represent.

I appreciate that I have not answered all of your questions and insofar as I haven’t answered all your questions, I have not done so because they do not relate to my conduct as a Member of Parliament and I think that it would be unprofessional of me to say anything further on this matter as a member of the Bar whilst criminal proceedings are still ongoing at Southwark Crown Court – about which, and for the avoidance of any doubt, I repeat, I have at no time made any representations and whilst criminal investigations are still outstanding against James Ibori.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Baldry

The questions I asked were:

1.  It has been alleged that you met with the Nigerian President last year, and discussed with him the criminal investigation by the UK authorities into the financial affairs of the Nigerian politician James Ibori. Is this true?

2. If so, did you conduct this meeting in your capacity as an MP or a barrister?

3. If it is true that this meeting took place, what was the purpose of the meeting, which issues were discussed and which actions were agreed?

4. If it is true that the meeting took place, how long afterwards did you write your letter to David Miliband about the James Ibori case?

5. Do you deny suggesting in this letter that the criminal investigation into Mr Ibori might be detrimental to British interests?

6. The Oxford Mail reports that a solicitor who has acted for the Ibori family recently paid you £37,000 for 29 hours’ legal work between September and December last year. What did this work involve?

Written by Richard Wilson

March 27, 2010 at 10:01 am

MP second jobs controversy: What the voters of Banbury need to know about Tony Baldry MP…

with 5 comments

*Help defend freedom of speech in the UK – sign the petition for libel reform*

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about Tony Baldry, the MP for Banbury, in which I referred to some rather surprising allegations that have been made about him by a grassroots anti-corruption group, the Nigerian Liberty Forum. I had been prompted to look into the issue after I read that the Independent had withdrawn an article about it, following libel threats from Tony Baldry.

A few days later, I myself was contacted by Baldry’s lawyers, Olswang, who claimed that my blog post was defamatory, and copied me on a letter that they had sent to my webhosts, WordPress, threatening to sue them for libel, and demanding that the entire post be taken down. In their email to me, Olswang also stated that “we will advise our client to take all necessary steps to protect his reputation should there be any repetition of these allegations”, which I took to be a threat of libel against me.

(Readers can make up their own minds about the degree to which the Olswang letter accurately reflects what I wrote. The original version of the blogpost is available here.)

What surprises me most about this was that, to the best of my knowledge, Tony Baldry has not made any threats of libel against my original source, The Nigerian Liberty Forum. Their allegations and are still freely available all over the internet, and their criticisms arguably far more detailed and damning.

The dispute centres around a letter that Tony Baldry wrote to the British government in September last year, in which he discussed a UK corruption investigation into James Ibori, the former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State region, alongside a number of his associates. Tony Baldry (through his lawyers, Olswang) has been at pains to make it clear that he wrote this letter in his capacity as a barrister (one of his second jobs outside of Parliament), and that in writing this letter he was not seeking to get the criminal investigation shelved:

1. The letter was written on the notepaper of 1 Essex Court, and it states clearly that Mr Baldry has been instructed by solicitors to represent James Ibori. The letter was clearly written in Mr Baldry’s capacity as Counsel for Mr Ibori, not as an MP.

2. There is no suggestion anywhere in the letter that Mr Baldry is seeking any course of action which would benefit Mr Ibori. The letter specifically summarises its purpose by saying that perhaps after the outcome of the criminal proceedings is known, relevant agencies might want to reflect on lessons learned.

The Nigerian Liberty Forum has argued, and I agree, that the quickest and easiest way of clarifying this issue to everyone’s satisfaction would be for Mr Baldry – or the UK government – to publish the disputed letter in full.

Unfortunately, the Foreign Office has refused a Freedom of Information Act request from the NLF. Given the lack of resources allocated by the government to the Information Commission for FOI appeals, it also seems likely that the decision will not be reviewed for many months – if not years.

So we’re left wondering what exactly what was in that letter, and what the purpose of writing it really was.

The decision to take down my original blog post was made by me. I didn’t think it was fair that WordPress were getting threatened over something that was my responsibility. While I knew that Tony Baldry was insistent that he had written his September 2009 letter in his capacity as a barrister rather than an MP, and I had made that quite clear in the article, I hadn’t actually been aware that Tony Baldry disputed the purpose of that letter as it had been described by the Nigerian Liberty Forum. And it seemed somewhat futile to get into a dispute with the author of a letter I hadn’t seen, over that letter’s contents – especially as I had merely been referring to what others had alleged, rather than making that allegation myself.

I also figured that once I’d had the chance to look into it in depth I could always return to the issue again.

My point in that original blog post – as it is now – was really that even if we take only the facts about this story that are not contested, it seems to raise some worrying questions.

1. Potential conflicts of interest

Firstly, it seems to me very surprising that our Parliamentary system should allow MPs to hold a second job which involves a) acting on behalf of people who are under criminal investigation (perhaps especially when this involves allegations of large-scale corruption) by the UK courts over which Parliament ultimately has sovereignty and b) making representations on behalf of such people to the same government ministers they face daily on the floor of House of Commons in their capacity as an MP.

The potential for such an arrangement to create conflicts of interest seems very clear, and quite worrying. Even in the terms that Tony Baldry himself has described it, I believe that this case does not look good, and I doubt that it will look good to many outside of the “Westminster bubble”. If this is what the rules allow then it seems to me that those rules urgently need to be changed.

2. Transparency and accountability

Secondly, an effective democracy depends on our being able to scrutinise the activities of our elected representatives. Yet we are unable to do that fully in this case, because the letter that Tony Baldry wrote to the UK government is protected from FOI disclosure. As I believe the “exemptions” listed here make clear, one of the main reasons for this is precisely because he wrote it confidentially in his capacity as a barrister acting on behalf of a client.

(As it happens, it appears that the letter only came to light in the first place because its existence was leaked to the Nigerian Liberty Forum – had this not happened, then we and the voters of Banbury would presumably have never have even heard about this issue).

The Nigerian Liberty Forum have also alleged – and it should be clear here that I am referring to an allegation rather than endorsing it – that just days before writing his September 2009 letter to the UK government about James Ibori, Tony Baldry had met with the Nigerian President, and discussed the Ibori case with him.

Again, my point here is not to suggest that Tony Baldry broke any Parliamentary rules. My point is rather that  it’s very difficult for us to scrutinise what, in practice, those rules are allowing, and form our own judgements about whether we agree that this is reasonable and appropriate behaviour for our elected representatives.

One analogy might be the controversy around MPs’ expenses. Parliament had published the broad rules guiding what MPs were, and were not, allowed to claim, and these seemed reasonable enough to many. Yet it was only when the specific details emerged of what, exactly, had been allowed under those rules, that we got a really meaningful picture of what had been going on. And at that point many of us came to the conclusion that the rules were not appropriate, and needed changing.

It seems to me that the more “second jobs” that an MP holds, the harder it is going to be to scrutinise their external activities, and satisfy ourselves that those activities are appropriate, whether or not they are “within the rules” that Parliament writes for itself.

Tony Baldry’s external activities are listed by They Work For You as follows:

1. Remunerated directorships

Chairman (non-executive), Westminster Oil Limited; a BVI registered company, development of oil licences and exploration.

West African Investments Ltd; investing in infrastructure and natural resource projects in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in West Africa.

Halcyon Oil Limited; a Hong Kong registered company focusing on oil exploration and discovery projects in Central Asia.

Mastermailer Holdings plc; development of stationery and stationery products. I am a non-executive director, and my duties involve attending board meetings…

2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc

Practising barrister, arbitrator and mediator…

Executive Partner in Diamond Film Partnership; a UK partnership promoting UK film and television production rights.

Chairman of the Advisory Committee of Curve Capital Ventures Ltd, c/o Apex Fund Services (Mauritius) Ltd, Suite 2005, Level 2, Alexander House, 35 Cyber City, Evene, Mauritius; a sector neutral investment company that predominantly invests in India, China and Africa and advises companies on strategic growth and global expansion.

The Oxford Mail reports that since last July alone, Tony Baldry has earned more than £111,000 from his external interests – significantly more than his £64,766 MP’s annual salary.

3. Why was the letter written?

Thirdly, I remain very confused about why Tony-Baldry-the-barrister would have written this controversial letter to the UK government in the first place.

The lawyer and journalist Allen Green had these thoughts on that issue in this week’s excellent article in the Lawyer:

The other aspect of the Independent on Sunday apology which intrigued me was the notion of a barrister – especially in a matter where solicitors are instructed – writing a letter.

I have never before come across it.

Settling draft letters to go out under the letterhead of the instructing solicitor or the client is common.  Indeed it is sensible if one takes litigation seriously, not least as it prevents the barrister from blaming the solicitor for screwing up pre-action correspondence.

But a barrister sending a letter under their own name?  Whilst there is nothing at all wrong with this, it must be unusual.  In my experience it sometimes difficult to get barrister to even sign the pleadings they are supposed to put their name to.

So Allen Green wrote to Tony Baldry and asked him:

Why did you write the letter on behalf of the client when solicitors were instructed?

(It is highly unusual for barristers to write any correspondence in their own name (rather than pleadings), especially when solicitors are instructed.)

But the only answer to this that Tony Baldry gave was:

The letter was written in my capacity as a Barrister, instructed by solicitors.

Tony Baldry states that in writing the letter he was not seeking to secure any “benefit” for James Ibori. We can take this at face value, yet still be confused about why a barrister would be employed to act in behalf of a client towards a particular purpose (eg. in this case writing to the UK government) if that purpose held no benefit at all for the client.

The picture gets even more confusing when we look at the reasons reportedly given by the UK government for refusing to disclose the letter following a Freedom of Information Act request. These include an exemption under Section 27(1)(a) of the Act, which “allows us to withhold information if its disclosure would or would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and another state.”

What could possibly have been in that letter – which we’ve been told was written by a barrister acting solely in his capacity as a barrister on behalf of a client in a criminal investigation – that would have such wide-ranging political implications as to risk undermining international relations were it to be disclosed?

4. Libel should not be used to suppress political scrutiny and debate

Fourthly, it seems to me extremely worrying that an elected MP should be so quick to respond to public criticism by threatening to sue newspapers and web-publishers for libel. Tony Baldry is by no means alone in this. One of the reasons I became interested in this issue in the first place is that I’ve begun to lose count of the number of times an MP or Lord has used our notoriously draconian libel laws to try to get a news article censored.

Among the worst offenders was Michael Martin MP during his time as Speaker of the House of Commons. Martin’s multiple failures during the expenses scandal ultimately brought about his downfall (though he still got to sit in the House of Lords, where he has continued to do damage). But for a long time he had great success in using libel threats to get critical media coverage withdrawn.

These people are public figures whose actions in office can impact on us all. There is a clear public interest in being able to scrutinise and question their behaviour, freely and without intimidation. As public servants, it seems to me that our politicians therefore have a duty actively to support robust and open debate, and to avoid doing anything which might deter critical scrutiny.

Yet we have somehow got used to the idea that our MPs can routinely resort to heavy-handed legal tactics at the slightest of provocations. This week it was revealed that the Respect MP George Galloway was suing over a critical comment left on a blog. Regardless of the objectionable nature of the comment (and I’m no great fan of the website in question) this decision – and in particular the scale of damages being demanded –  seems quite extraordinary. I hope that George Galloway, who interviewed me on his radio show (in his capacity as a radio presenter, not an MP, I hasten to add) when Don’t Get Fooled Again was first published, will soon realise how bad this looks to the neutral observer and reconsider what he’s doing.

There is now a palpable reluctance in large sections of the media to ask critical questions about our politicians’ behaviour, and the rules by which they govern themselves. It strikes me that this is very bad for our democracy.  I think that our elected representatives need to develop a thicker skin, and we need to start being more critical when MPs make inappropriate libel threats.

I am genuinely amazed that Tony Baldry chose to address this controversy by threatening to sue my webhosts. I do not believe it reflects well on him that he chose to do so, especially as the airing of similar allegations in stronger terms elsewhere appears to have gone unchallenged.

Neither does it look good, as Allen Green has noted, that Tony Baldry demanded the removal not only of the comments he deemed inaccurate and defamatory, but the entire blogpost.

I have no desire to say anything about Tony Baldry which is untrue or unfair, and am happy to take corrections when necessary. But on the basis of the evidence I have seen, I do believe that there are serious questions that need to be asked about this case, and that asking those questions is manifestly in the public interest.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Anonymous censor attacks Tony Baldry MP’s wikipedia entry…

with 4 comments

Unnecessary censorship…

This amused me…

Now why would someone want to go and repeatedly remove well-sourced, yet embarrassing, pieces of information from an elected MP’s wikipedia entry, claiming, falsely, that they were “inaccuracies”?

And why would someone create a wikipedia account which they then use solely for that purpose, and none other?

It’s almost as if whoever’s behind this doesn’t want the voters of Banbury to be properly informed about the more “controversial” activities of their democratic representative…

Written by Richard Wilson

March 19, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Tony Baldry MP: The questions that refuse to go away…

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Elegant stuff from Jack of Kent writing in The Lawyer

The Capacities of Tony Baldry, a Barrister and MP

Our tale begins on 28 February 2010, where the Independent on Sunday published the following apology to Tony Baldry, a barrister and also a Conservative MP:

“In our article “Tory MP accused over links to Nigerian politician” 14 February 2010, we reported that Tony Baldry MP had “lobbied” on behalf of a Nigerian politician James Ibori in writing a letter

to the Foreign Secretary and others and that his involvement amounted to “political lobbying”. We now accept that Mr Baldry did not lobby on behalf of Mr Ibori, the letter was written in his capacity as a barrister, instructed by solicitors, who was acting for Mr Ibori. The letter was not written in Mr Baldry’s capacity as a MP, and we accept that there was no breach of the Parliamentary rule about Lobbying for Reward or Consideration. We apologise to Mr Baldry for suggesting that he acted improperly as an MP.”

So, as E. L. Wisty said of trappings, the Independent on Sunday had clearly got hold of the wrong load of capacities…

[Read the rest of this article at The Lawyer]

Written by Richard Wilson

March 18, 2010 at 11:25 am

What the voters of Banbury might want to ask Tony Baldry MP

with 7 comments

*Help defend freedom of speech in the UK – sign the petition for libel reform*

1.  It has been alleged that you met with the Nigerian President last year, and discussed with him the criminal investigation by the UK authorities into the financial affairs of the Nigerian politician James Ibori. Is this true?

2. If so, did you conduct this meeting in your capacity as an MP or a barrister?

3. If it is true that this meeting took place, what was the purpose of the meeting, which issues were discussed and which actions were agreed?

4. If it is true that the meeting took place, how long afterwards did you write your letter to David Miliband about the James Ibori case?

5. Do you deny suggesting in this letter that the criminal investigation into Mr Ibori might be detrimental to British interests?

6. The Oxford Mail reports that a solicitor who has acted for the Ibori family recently paid you £37,000 for 29 hours’ legal work between September and December last year. What did this work involve?

Written by Richard Wilson

March 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Fair comment in the public interest

with 8 comments

*Help defend freedom of speech in the UK – sign the petition for libel reform*

Some readers will know that the post I wrote earlier this week about Tony Baldry MP and James Ibori has been taken off this site. More on that in due course.

In the meantime, I would recommend that everyone take a look at this blog post from Will Jordan, which I believe is both fair comment, and self-evidently in the public interest.

It seems to me that the core issue here is, as Craig Murray also points out, the extent to which it is appropriate, in a modern democracy, for MPs to hold down second (and third, and fourth and fifth) jobs without creating serious conflicts of interest which threaten to compromise their independence as MPs.

Tony Baldry has been at pains to stress the extent to which his work as a barrister is distinct from his activities as an MP. And yet the website of his own legal chambers, One Essex Court (accessed and archived 6/3/10), seems to blur this distinction, stating that:

Recent Heads of Chambers include Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, a leading Conservative MP for over twenty years, and Parliamentary connections are maintained under One Essex Court’s current head Tony Baldry MP.

The question of whether or not individual MPs are currently “acting within the rules” is, to my mind, secondary to this much larger question of whether the rules, in their current form, are really doing an effective job of maintaining the robust independence we need from our Parliamentarians in order to sustain a healthy democracy.

As was often the case during the expenses scandal, we might happily accept at face value all of the public statements that Tony Baldry MP has made, yet still have grave concerns that the Parliamentary rules could permit the arrangement he describes.

And as with the expenses scandal, it is vital that members of the public are able to voice these concerns openly, without facing threats or intimidation.

As Chairman of the Conservative Human Rights Commission, Tony Baldry must surely be aware of the growing international concern around the use of UK libel law by super-rich claimants to deter critical reporting of serious public interest questions.

The debate around MPs’ second jobs – in which the controversy surrounding Tony Baldry is just one example – is clearly a public interest matter. Democracy depends on our freedom to scrutinise the conduct of our MPs, and question the rules they make for themselves.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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