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Posts Tagged ‘trafigura

Slaying the super-injunction dragon and dismantling the secret courts

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Today I was one of four bloggers giving evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Privacy and injunctions. Also on the panel were David Allen Green (Jack of Kent / New Statesman), Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) and Jamie East (Holy Moly).

Trafigura

My main focus in the discussion was the notorious Trafigura super-injunction which I helped to unravel back in 2009, by posting a “banned” Parliamentary Question on Twitter.

A super-injunction is a gagging order that both prohibits the publication of a specific piece of information, and forbids any mention of the gagging order’s existence.

Trafigura’s super-injunction banned any reference in the UK media to a leaked company memo known as the “Minton Report”. When,  in October 2009, the MP Paul Farrelly raised the issue in Parliament, Trafigura’s controversial lawyers, Carter Ruck, tried to prevent the press from reporting Farrelly’s question.

This had come at the end of a year that also saw a draconian libel ruling against the science writer Simon Singh.  The year before, Ben Goldacre and the Guardian had successfully defended a vexatious libel case by the AIDS-denialist quack Matthias Rath – yet the newspaper nonetheless lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in unrecovered costs. I myself had spent time fighting off an unfounded libel claim over Don’t Get Fooled Again, and had seen up close the chilling effect that such threats could have.

To me and many others who took action the same evening, Trafigura’s super-injunction felt like the last straw after a series of attacks on freedom of speech. The bid by Carter Ruck to ban the reporting of Parliament seemed like imperial over-reach by a “reputation management” company far too used to getting its way from pliant High Court judges. It seemed extraordinary that a judge sitting in an English court – on a handsome salary funded by ordinary taxpayers – might allow such an effort.

The situation also seemed absurd. The “banned” Parliamentary Question had been published by Parliament on its own website. The Minton report itself had been available on Wikileaks for over a month. Yet anyone who repeated the same information themselves could face prosecution for Contempt of Court.

Secret courts and freedom of speech

But the fundamental problem was the very idea of a secret court hearing to ban the free exchange of information. When a court case is heard in secret, the public has no way of checking whether the judgements made in their name are decent, honest, and fair. Because we don’t even know that the case is going on, we have no way of holding the court to account if – as is inevitable from time to time, given human nature – a judge makes a decision through corruption, cronyism or incompetence rather than through the fair application of the law. Public scrutiny is an essential safety valve in any democracy, and it seems extraordinary that our political class would seek to dispense with it so lightly. This is not a new idea.

Likewise, any constraint on freedom of expression risks being abused by those seeking to cover up evidence of corruption or incompetence, as we have seen time and again with UK libel law.

We might nonetheless accept this risk in certain narrow circumstances. We might agree that some categories of information should in principle, in all or most cases, be kept confidential. Some examples might be:

- Children’s medical records

- The name and address of a person under a witness protection programme

- Information likely to be prejudicial to a criminal trial

We might accept that the courts have a role in enforcing this.  But even in these cases, court decisions have to be open and public if we are to minimise the risk of abuse. And for a government official to extend such restrictions to information which merely has the potential to embarrass a large and powerful corporation seems, frankly, reckless.

“How does undermining the rule of law aid the public interest?”

Two years after Trafigura it feels as if progress has been made. There seems to be a general acceptance (other than from Carter Ruck and Trafigura, obviously) that Carter Ruck’s attempt to gag the reporting of Parliament was misguided. There is also a recognition that the current system of privacy and “confidence” injunctions is in a mess, and needs reform.

But it looks as if there’s a way to go yet. Prior to today’s meeting, the panelists were sent a list of somewhat loaded questions, including:

“Most of you have blogged about injunctions; some of you appeared to know or think you were breaching injunctions whilst you were blogging. What were your motivations for doing this? What made you think you wouldn’t be prosecuted?”

“Do you think that you are able to judge the appropriateness of an injunction when you haven’t heard the full case (compared with a judge who has)?”

“What is your definition of the public interest? How does undermining the rule of law aid the public interest?”

In one form or another, all of these questions came up during the session. I clarified to the Committee that when I chose to publish the Trafigura question I was by no means sure that I wouldn’t be prosecuted. I took the risk because I felt so strongly about the issue, and believe that many of the others who did the same thing were making a similar calculation.

The second question may seem reasonable at first glance. But the implication seems to be that when a judge passes a free speech restriction that appears completely unjust, or absurd, we simply have to nod deferentially and trust that they must have had lots of good reasons that we just don’t know about. This again, seems like a prescription for corruption and incompetence.

The last question was particularly interesting. While the Committee wanted to challenge us on our understanding of the “public interest”, it seemed to me that their definition of the “rule of law” was just as much open to question.

The United Nations defines the rule of law as:

a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities… are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced… and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law… avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.

The International Bar Association, meanwhile, sees the rule of law as establishing “a transparent process accessible and equal to all”. The IBA spells out that “Confidence in the system of governance in any society cannot be maintained unless the process is open and transparent.

On this basis, it would seem that High Court judges who pass secret edicts restricting freedom of expression – and the Parliamentarians who allow them to continue – are doing far more to undermine the rule of law than the bloggers who circumvent them.

Rich man’s justice

Lord Gold and Gisela Stewart MP seemed concerned – if somewhat bemused – by my suggestion that I would quickly go bankrupt if I was ever dragged into a libel court over something that I’d written. Surely this was incredibly unfair to any potential litigants who might end up losing money by taking me to court? His Lordship noted, disdainfully, that it wasn’t worth anyone’s while suing me, was it?

It was difficult to know what to make of this point, so I thought I’d expand on it here: A typical UK libel case can end up costing upwards of £100,000 to defend. This is a figure far beyond the means of most ordinary people, including most bloggers, and that is why, for most of us, being sued for libel would entail bankruptcy.

The main reason that such cases are so expensive in this country – reportedly around 140 times the European average – is that the “reputation management” firms that bring them are willing and able to charge more for an hour’s work than many of us earn in a week.

This is, in other words, a situation that the legal profession, aided by a Parliament unprepared, so far, to reign in the activities of such firms, has actively created. So it seems odd for Parliamentarians – many of whom, like David Gold, are also lawyers themselves – to wring their hands when confronted with the consequences.

I’ve no idea what the Committee will have made of our testimony. It is, at least, encouraging that these issues are starting to be debated properly. But it is nonetheless disturbing to see such a blithe acceptance among our elected officials of this fundamentally undemocratic system. It’s difficult to see how the current mess will be sorted out, and public confidence restored, until we dismantle these secret courts.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 15, 2011 at 2:13 am

Private Eye takes first prize in the “Trafigura Challenge”

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Private Eye wins the prize for being the first UK media outlet to report fully on these allegations about Trafigura and their law firm MacFarlanes. Here’s the PDF

Written by Richard Wilson

November 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Trafigura: Guilty.

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BBC Newsnight has the full story 16m 15s into this piece.

See also, Amnesty International:

Amnesty International today welcomed the guilty verdict by a Dutch court against the multinational company, Trafigura, for delivering hazardous waste to Amsterdam while concealing the true nature of the waste, and for exporting the waste to Cote D’Ivoire.

Today’s verdict is the first time the company has been held criminally accountable for its involvement in exporting the hazardous waste to Cote d’Ivoire.

“This judgement appears damning given Trafigura’s previous denials of any wrongdoing. The waste, which was ultimately dumped in Cote d’Ivoire, had a huge impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people,” said Benedetta Lacey, a special advisor at Amnesty International who has visited Côte d’Ivoire and met victims of the dumping.

“While the ruling is a significant step forward, this is not the end of the story for those affected. There are unanswered questions about the impact that the waste may have had on people’s health, and the areas where the waste was dumped are yet to be fully decontaminated”…

Full text here

Written by Richard Wilson

July 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Judgement day looms for Trafigura…

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From Agence France Presse:

THE HAGUE — A Dutch court will hand down judgment Friday in the first trial of a Swiss-based company whose chartered ship dumped waste alleged to have killed 17 people in Ivory Coast in 2006.

Multinational Trafigura, waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS), and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala ship were tried with three others for allegedly breaking environment and waste export laws on Dutch territory.

They all pleaded not guilty before the Amsterdam district court. Trafigura risks a fine of up to 2.1 million euros (2.7 million dollars).

“We are happy that four years after the fact, Trafigura has finally been brought before a judge,” Marietta Harjono, spokeswoman for environmental group Greenpeace, told AFP.

“But there can only be real justice when Trafigura is prosecuted for the events in the Ivory Coast.” This trial was about alleged violations of European law.

Caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala were prevented from being offloaded on July 2, 2006 for treatment in the Port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan, where they were dumped on city waste tips.

The waste, slops from the cleaning of fuel transportation tanks, was pumped back into the Probo Koala after APS demanded a higher price for treatment as it was more toxic than previously thought.

Trafigura declined to pay the increased price.

The company, which denies any link between the waste and casualties and has an independent experts’ report backing its stance, reached out of court settlements for 33 million euros and 152 million euros in Britain and Ivory Coast that exempted it from legal proceedings.

But a United Nations report published last September found “strong” evidence blaming the waste for at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations.

The Ivory Coast claims the dumping caused 17 deaths and thousands of poisoning cases.

Dutch judges have yet to decide on a bid by Greenpeace to have those responsible for the waste dump tried in the Netherlands for crimes committed on Ivorian soil.

In the current case, the prosecution asked the Amsterdam district court to impose a two-million-euro fine on Trafigura.

It sought a one-year jail term for Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, 43, who coordinated the operation in the port of Amsterdam, and four months for the Ukrainian captain of the ship, Sergiy Chertov, 46, for allegedly falsifying documents and lying about the nature of the waste.

For APS former managing director Evert Uittenbosch, 60, the prosecution sought a six-month jail term, half of it suspended, for violating environmental laws.

APS faces a 250,000-euro fine for the same violation, and the city of Amsterdam, which administered the port, 150,000 euros for not having prevented the exportation of dangerous waste.

The head of the Tommy company which dumped the waste from the Probo Koala in Ivory Coast was given a 20-year jail term by an Abidjan court in October 2008.

Written by Richard Wilson

July 22, 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Press Association News wins the “Trafigura Challenge”

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PA News has become the first UK media outlet to make any reference to allegations – widely reported in the Netherlands and elsewhere – that the controversial oil trade Trafigura bribed a number of witnesses to the Probo Koala toxic waste incident. PA is a syndicated newswire whose stories are normally picked up and republished by media across the UK – so it will be interesting to see if that happens in this case.

(Special mention should also go to the Daily Telegraph, who in a welcome break from their more usual slavish parroting of corporate pseudo-science have gone further than any other UK media outlet in reporting the full background to the case.)

From the Press Association newswire:

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has called on the Government to launch a “full inquiry” into allegations of illegal toxic waste dumping by a British-based oil trading firm.

Ms Lucas said the full details of allegations against Trafigura – which is facing criminal charges in the Netherlands – were not being fully reported because of the “chilling effect” of UK libel laws.

She urged the Government to investigate claims “that UK nationals and UK firms may have been involved in illegal waste shipments and a subsequent cover-up and that payments were made to truck drivers in return for favourable witness statements”.

In a Commons motion, the Brighton Pavilion MP also asked ministers to review libel laws “to ensure that this matter can be fully reported in the UK”.

Trafigura hit the headlines last year when The Guardian claimed it had been prevented from reporting a parliamentary question relating to the firm because of a legal order obtained by lawyers Carter Ruck – despite such questions being protected by privilege.

The row led then justice secretary Jack Straw to review the use of so-called “super-injunctions”, which not only ban reporting of a story but also of the existence of the ban itself.

A confidential settlement of the largest-ever group action was reached in London last September over the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.

The claims were launched against Trafigura following an August 2006 incident when thousands claimed they fell ill after “slops” were deposited near Abidjan, the African country’s commercial capital, from the Probo Koala, a ship hired by the firm.

Trafigura said it regretted the incident but did not accept legal liability as the dumping was carried out by a ship contractor which acted independently of, and without any authority from, Trafigura.

The motion from Ms Lucas – the Green Party’s first MP – “calls on the Government to launch a full inquiry into the allegations against Trafigura” in the light of fresh legal proceedings in the Netherlands which began last month.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Just days into her career as an MP, Caroline Lucas busts open another big UK establishment secret…

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From the website of the UK Parliament

Early Day Motion

EDM 118

TRAFIGURA AND SHIPPING HAZARDOUS WASTE TO THE IVORY COAST
27.05.2010

Lucas, Caroline

That this House, concerned that due to the start of fresh legal proceedings in the Netherlands on 14 and 17 May 2010 concerning the multinational commodities trading group Trafigura, including allegations that UK nationals and UK firms may have been involved in illegal waste shipments and a subsequent cover-up and that payments were made to truck drivers in return for favourable witness statements and given that this is not being fully reported in the United Kingdom because of the chilling effect of the UK’s libel laws, calls on the Government to launch a full inquiry into the allegations against Trafigura and to review the libel laws to ensure that this matter can be reported fully in the UK.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Independent breaks UK media silence over Trafigura trial in the Dutch courts

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With help from the newly-elected Green MP Caroline Lucas, The Independent  newspaper has taken a clear lead in the “Trafigura challenge” – the race to see which UK media outlet will be the first to report fully on the upcoming trial in the Dutch courts of the controversial oil company.

No UK newspaper or broadcaster has yet made any mention of  allegations made to Dutch prosecutors by Greenpeace – and widely featured in the Dutch media – that Trafigura and their law firm MacFarlanes sought to bribe witnesses in an earlier London court case. But the Independent has, by citing Caroline Lucas’ remarks, at least been able to reference the ongoing legal proceedings.

Under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, “correct copies” of any Parliamentary publication may freely be republished without fear of legal action, including, crucially, any action under the UK’s notoriously expensive and one-sided libel laws, which Trafigura has been ruthlessly exploiting.

In a message on Twitter last night, Caroline Lucas promised an “EDM [Early Day Motion] and PQs [Parliamentary Questions] to follow”, so with luck the UK press may soon have more opportunities to cover this story freely.

From The Independent

Caroline Lucas used her maiden speech to raise concerns that the British media are unable to fully report legal proceedings involving the commodities trading company Trafigura.

The Green MP pledged to use her new position in Parliament to raise the issue after legal claims were launched in the Netherlands against the company, which chartered the ship whose toxic sludge was illegally dumped in the Ivory Coast in 2006.

The Dutch-based oil trader caused outrage last year when a High Court injunction issued on its behalf had the effect of blocking coverage of parliamentary proceedings involving its activities. The “super-injunction”, obtained by the law firm Carter Ruck, was amended after it was accused of infringing the supremacy of Parliament by preventing the reporting of a question tabled by an MP. Politicians from all sides criticised the legal manoeuvre.

The law firm agreed to change the injunction and insisted there was no question that Trafigura had sought to gag the media from reporting parliamentary proceedings.

In her maiden speech to the House of Commons, Ms Lucas said she was still concerned that proceedings in foreign courts were not being reported in Britain. She said: “Last year honourable members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

“There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly. This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here. And these are the kind of issues I would like to pursue.”

In unrelated proceedings, a court in Amsterdam is due to start hearing the trial next week of Trafigura for the alleged infringement of Dutch waste export laws relating to the Probo Koala, the chartered tanker whose waste was dumped at sites around the Ivorian city, Abidjan.

The company is accused along with the captain of the vessel, the municipal authorities in Amsterdam and a waste treatment company of breaking rules when the ship attempted to offload the waste in the Dutch city before it then departed for West Africa. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 28, 2010 at 7:51 am

Caroline Lucas MP ups the stakes in the Trafigura Challenge

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The new Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has begun her House of Commons career in style. In her maiden speech this afternoon, Ms Lucas exercised Parliamentary privilege to help break the UK media’s silence over the upcoming trial in the Dutch courts of the oil company Trafigura.

Under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, “correct copies” of any Parliamentary publication may freely be republished without fear of legal action of any kind. This means that the UK media should now be able to make some reference to Trafigura’s legal entanglements, if only by republishing our first Green MP’s maiden speech.

If you’d like to help end the legal fiasco which has allowed a powerful multinational with a dubious track record to silence our entire media, do please support the petition for libel reform at www.libelreform.org/sign, and encourage your friends to do the same.

The text of Caroline Lucas’ speech will shortly be available on the official Parliamentary record – in the meantime it has been published by the Green Party here.  I’m also reproducing the text below.

Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed.

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Trafigura goes on trial next week in Amsterdam – will the UK media dare to report it?

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The report they tried to ban…

The Anglo-Dutch oil company Trafigura goes on trial in the Netherlands on June 1st, over its role in the allegedly illegal exporting of toxic waste to the Ivory Coast. According to the Ivory Coast authorities, the dumping of this waste led to 15 deaths, with other reports putting the death toll at 17.

Trafigura is notorious for its willingness to use UK libel law – which is famously one-sided and prohibitively expensive for most defendants – to suppress critical coverage. As a result, while the Dutch, Norwegian and American media have reported the case freely, few UK newspapers will even cover it, let alone mention the alleged death toll (which Trafigura continues to dispute).

When Trafigura and their London-based law firm, MacFarlanes, were formally accused in the Dutch courts of bribing witnesses (a charge they deny), there was silence about it in the UK media.  According to MacFarlanes themselves, such behaviour “would have been illegal and it would certainly have constituted serious professional misconduct”. Under normal circumstances, the laying of such charges against a UK law firm would have been a major news story. The fact that it has gone unreported in Britain shows how much damage our libel laws have done to freedom of speech and public interest journalism.

When the trial itself begins on June 1st, it will be interesting to see if any UK media dare to cover it. This will be a key test of how much power Trafigura now wields over the British press – and how much courage our journalists and editors have in resisting this company’s sustained attack on press freedom.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

Trafigura and Macfarlanes deny bribing witnesses in toxic waste court case, threaten legal action against Dutch media

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Response to Volkskrant allegations, published on Scribd.com

Macfarlanes and Trafigura deny any involvement, whether direct or indirect, in what you describe as “bribery and influencing of witnesses”.

Not only would such conduct be grossly unethical, it would have been illegal and it would certainly have constituted serious professional misconduct by Macfarlanes. The suggestion that this firm or one of its partners would involve itself in such misconduct is as absurd as it is defamatory.

Furthermore, for reasons we touch on below, even if Macfarlanes or Trafigura had been willing to misconduct ourselves in this way (which we were not), it would have been completely illogical and counter-productive for us to have done so given the circumstances of these events.

We note that you acknowledge that these allegations are extremely serious. We trust, therefore, that if you consider yourself to be a responsible journalist, rather than pursuing a pre-meditated agenda against Trafigura, you will consider your position very carefully before publishing allegations about Macfarlanes which are indeed very serious, malicious, gravely defamatory, false and completely inconsistent with the previous course of conduct between the parties.

You state in your email that these are similar to allegations made last year. For the record, those allegations were also wholly without foundation. Indeed, they were formally withdrawn by the Claimants and their solicitors, Leigh Day & Co, in the Abidjan Personal Injury Group Litigation proceedings in September 2009.

Given your misapprehension of the true position and the fact that, regrettably, certain individuals have chosen to provide you with dishonest and malicious allegations, it is important that we address your questions.

It is equally important that you carefully consider our responses and weigh up how much reliance, if any, can be placed upon these false and malicious allegations.

In the event that you still decide to publish these allegations, we require you to ensure that you include our response to each allegation at the point in which it appears in the article.

You will appreciate that, given the seriousness and falsity of what you are seeking to allege, Macfarlanes and/or Trafigura will have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings without further notice if your story does not comply fully with the basic principles of truth, balanced reporting and responsible journalism.

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Greenpeace accuses Trafigura

The environmental organisation accuses the multinational of having influenced witnesses.

In the Netherlands, Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the public prosecution against the multinational Trafigura, accusing the latter of having influenced witnesses and also of forgery.

According to the environmental organisation, a group of drivers reported to be Ivoirian would have agreed with Trafigura not to report being ill as a result of transporting toxic waste for the multinational.

A spokesman for Greenpeace has confirmed that information which had been disclosed by Dutch television and the center-left daily De Volkskrant.

According to the Ivorian justice, dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in August 2006, by the cargo Probo Koala, chartered by Trafigura from Amsterdam, had killed 17 people and poisoned thousands.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

Posted in Censorship

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Major embarrassment for Trafigura as reports they claimed were defamatory win prestigious international journalism award

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Trafigura sued the BBC for libel over this report
– now the piece has won a major international media award

From the Center for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2010 — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposé by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

The winners were announced tonight at the sixth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Pearl Awards are presented by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.

The winners are:

  • Kjersti Knudsson and Synnove Bakke, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.; David Leigh, The Guardian; Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight; Jeroen Trommelen, de Volkskrant (Western Europe), for “Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump,” which exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans.
  • Aram Roston, The Nation (United States), for “How the US Funds the Taliban,” on of how Pentagon military contractors in Afghanistan routinely pay millions of dollars in protection money to the Taliban to move supplies to U.S. troops. The project was sponsored by The Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 25, 2010 at 6:41 am

Trafigura vindicated? 115-page “Reply” which the company says rebuts the BBC’s case

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Trafigura’s Reply to the BBC’s libel Defence(PDF)

A few weeks ago Wikileaks published the 40-page court document in which the BBC laid out its defence against Trafigura’s libel claim, following this Newsnight report from May last year.

Trafigura had always insisted that the available scientific evidence vindicated them of blame for any deaths or serious injuries following the August 2006 Probo Koala toxic waste incident, and in December the BBC controversially withdrew their claims and agreed to pay damages. Yet Trafigura have never published the evidence which they say vindicates them, despite repeated requests.

Following the publication of the BBC document by Wikileaks, the blogger Calum Carr again contacted Trafigura to request their side of the story, but again to no avail.

Calum and I have now obtained this document ourselves. Given today’s very promising news about the libel reform campaign, we felt that this was a good moment to put the information out into the public domain, so that people can form their own view on this contentious issue.

Obtaining an electronic copy of this document has been an interesting process in itself. To do this, I had to:

1. Go to the High Court in person

2. Make a formal request for a copy of the document (giving full personal details including my home address)

3. Wait several days

4. Phone the High Court to see if the copy was ready

5. Visit the High Court again in person

6. Pay a not-insignificant photocopying fee

7. Pick up the paper copy of the document

8. Take the copy to a specialist document scanning company to get it turned into a PDF

9. Pay another fee

10. Wait another few days, before receiving the PDF via email.

This is apparently standard procedure for getting hold of key UK court documents. One would almost have thought that the legal authorities did not actually want the British public to have ready access to documents which are, at least in theory, available to all of us by right…

We might compare the above process to the mechanism involved in, say, accessing the text of a Parliamentary Question or a Select Committee report, eg:

1. Visit the Parliament website

2. Type in a relevant search term

2. Download the information (for free).

For all the concerns we might have about the current workings of the Parliament, its processes currently seem a whole lot more open transparent than those of the judiciary. Apart from anything else, the requirement that one has to visit the High Court in person to access a public document seems inherently discriminatory to anyone living a significant distance from London.

If and when we get some real progress on libel reform, it seems to me that opening up the judiciary to at least the same levels of scrutiny we have for Parliament could be an important next step.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Wikileaks publish BBC’s 39-page defence against the Trafigura libel suit

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From Wikileaks (pdf):

This document was submitted to the UK’s High Court by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in September 2009, as a Defence against a libel claim brought against them by the oil company Trafigura. A May 2009 BBC Newsnight feature suggested that 16 deaths and many other injuries were caused by the dumping in the Ivory Coast of a large quantity of toxic waste originating with Trafigura. A September 2009 UN report into the matter stated that 108,000 people were driven to seek medical attention.

This Defence, which has never been previously published online, outlines in detail the evidence which the BBC believed justified its coverage. In December 2009 the BBC settled out of court amid reports that fighting the case could have cost as much as 3 million pounds. The BBC removed its original Newsnight footage and associated articles from its on-line archives. The detailed claims contained in this document were never aired publicly, and never had a chance to be tested in court.

Commenting on the BBC’s climbdown, John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship said: “Sadly, the BBC has once again buckled in the face of authority or wealthy corporate interests. It has cut a secret deal. This is a black day for British journalism and once more strengthens our resolve to reform our unjust libel laws.” Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said: “Forced to choose between a responsible broadcaster and an oil company which shipped hundreds of tons of toxic waste to a developing country, English libel law has once again allowed the wrong side to claim victory. The law is an ass and needs urgent reform.”

Now that this document is in the public domain, the global public will be able to make their own judgement about the strength of the BBC’s case.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 16, 2010 at 7:31 am

New statement from Amnesty: “There were 15 reported deaths”

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The day after the BBC backed down in the face of legal threats from Trafigura over their claim that the company’s waste caused deaths…

From Amnesty International

In August 2006, toxic waste was brought to Abidjan on board the ship Probo Koala, which had been chartered by oil-trading company, Trafigura.

This waste was then dumped in various locations around the city, causing a human rights tragedy. More than 100,000 people sought medical attention for a range of health problems and there were 15 reported deaths.

On 23 September 2009, the High Court of England and Wales approved a $45 million settlement between nearly 30,000 victims of the toxic waste dumping and Trafigura.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 19, 2009 at 9:21 am

UK’s dysfunctional libel system strikes again? Newsnight feature on Trafigura disappears from BBC website

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UPDATE – The censored Newsnight feature on Trafigura may have disappeared from the BBC website, but it’s now all over Youtube…

The BBC lawyers may have caved, but you can still defy Trafigura – click here to find out how!

See also: Democracy under attack – Carter-Ruck persuades Commons Speaker that courts *can* ban the reporting of Parliament

In May, the BBC ran a feature on the oil company Trafigura, alleging “dirty tricks” over the dumping of toxic waste in the ivory coast. Shortly afterwards, Trafigura announced that they were sueing the BBC for libel.

The case has received very little media attention – a sign, perhaps, of the ongoing chill that Trafigura is managing to cast over the UK media – but it was mentioned again in this Guardian piece last month.

Until very recently, the Newsnight feature was freely available on the BBC’s website – but now it seems to have disappeared. It’s currently still available via Google cache, which indicates that it was on the site as late as lunchtime yesterday. Could of course just be a technical problem but it does look somewhat odd…

UPDATE 11/12/09 – The story has now been missing from the website for more than 24 hours – it’s starting to look more and more likely that  the piece has been spiked, and that the BBC – that most British of institutions – may now have become the latest victim of our country’s “rogue state” libel laws. In an ironic twist, it seems that the BBC’s lawyers chose international Human Rights Day as the moment to cave in to this attack on freedom of expression.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Make a vid for freedom and defy #Trafigura!

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Earlier today we showed up outside Trafigura’s offices to video ourselves reading out the information they have been trying so hard to suppress.

If you couldn’t make the protest, you can still help to drive the point home, by reading out the ‘banned text’ in your own Youtube video at home or work.

The more of us do this, the more clearly we can send out the message that the internet can’t be gagged, and that efforts to do so are doomed to backfire.

Please be as original and creative as you like, but if you need a starting point here’s the basic text that we’ll be using:

I am [name] and I’m using my freedom under the 1688 Bill of Rights to read the following quote from Parliament, in defiance of Trafigura:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

The next step is then to upload the video to Youtube (or Vimeo or Yfrog), with the word “Trafigura” somewhere in the description text, and tell as many people as possible. If you’re on Twitter, please do spread the word by Tweeting the link to your vid with the #Trafigura hashtag.

We’ll be embedding and linking to every video we find, and eventually editing them all together as part of a top-secret new web 2.0 project, so please do let us know via this page once your work is published!

Here’s Kate defying #Trafigura!

…and here’s Chris

Here’s Simon


Here’s Sly…

Here’s Reggie

…and here’s Lianne

Here’s Alex defying #Trafigura!

Here’s Jimbo Gunn defying #Trafigura to the tune of “Ode to Joy”

Here’s Derek defying #Trafigura

Here’s Dom defying #Trafigura

Here’s Lauren’s cat defying #Trafigura

Here’s Peregrine defying #Trafigura

Here’s Joel Sams defying #Trafigura with gravitas!

Here’s a robot space alien defying #Trafigura

Here’s one I made earlier


Here’s Paul defying #Trafigura

Written by Richard Wilson

November 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Tweet if you support us! Online flashmob – 1pm, Thursday 26th November

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*UPDATE* – Make a vid for freedom! We’re defying #Trafigura, and you can too!

Unable to join the #Trafigura flashmob in person this Thursday? Still want to help? Well now you can…

We will be using our freedom under the 1688 Bill of Rights to stand outside Trafigura’s office and quote from a Parliamentary debate which highlighted an allegation that the company has been very keen to suppress:

Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation against Carter-Ruck that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there?

From 1pm onwards on Thursday 26th November, please show your support for the campaign by Tweeting the following, and encouraging others to do the same:

Beat the gag! “toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people” #Trafigura http://bit.ly/4DvaNV

OR

I’m tweeting banned text: “toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people” #Trafigura http://tr.im/FBZi

Click here to help us defy Trafigura on Youtube!

Click here for more information about the campaign.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm

*Flipcam Flashmob!* Multimedia protest @ #Trafigura’s London office, 1pm Thurs Nov 26th

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*UPDATE* Sign up for the event on Facebook here – and if you can’t make the protest, you can make a vid for freedom here, or support us on Twitter.

We’re going to ‘flashmob’ Trafigura ( 2 Portman Street, London W1H 6DU ) at 1pm on Thursday November 26th. The main aim is to highlight the fact that Trafigura/Carter Ruck are, even now, still suing the BBC for libel - (over this report) and thus continuing to cast a chill over the UK media.

The key feature of the protest will be an act of defiance against Trafigura’s attempt to stop the reporting of the fact that their toxic waste is alleged to have caused a number of deaths (ie. not just ‘flu-like symptoms’).

The plan is to quote verbatim from Hansard, as (despite some uncertainty recently) we know that we have an absolute legal right to quote from Parliamentary proceedings.

According to Evan Harris MP (quoted here in a Parliamentary debate, hence we can quote him):

“Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation against Carter-Ruck that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there?

So the plan is to turn up outside their offices with as many people (and cameraphones, mini-video cams, etc.) as possible, and recite this text – either all of the above, or just the two lines Harris is quoting from the ‘memorandum’.

The highlight will be Sly and Reggie, with their “Suburban Pirate” mobile (a lovely old Morris pickup), which has a public address system they will employ to a similar purpose, together with the rather good song they’ve recorded specifically on this subject.

There’s a rumour that (subject to local byelaws) we’ll also be drinking a toast to freedom outside Trafigura’s office, with some banana bread beer…

Written by Richard Wilson

November 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Democracy

Tagged with ,

Standby for more #Trafigura fun and frolics

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We’re still finalising the details, but on Thursday evening I’ll be unveiling the next step in the ongoing campaign to persuade Trafigura to end their attacks on freedom of speech in the UK. It will involve music, and talking, and cameras, and a number of TBC peaceful, legal activities!

If you’d like to get involved, please do contact me via richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot uk

Written by Richard Wilson

November 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

BBC Newsnight are still being sued for libel by Trafigura and Carter-Ruck

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From The Guardian

Carter Ruck’s support today for some of the changes put forward in the report came amid continuing criticism of firms that launch expensive libel claims against journalists and other publishers, often using conditional fee agreements which result in higher costs for defendants.

“If we don’t get reforms, what is there to stop a law firm like Carter Ruck bombarding journalists and suppressing information that is in the public interest for three years?” said Meirion Jones, producer at BBC’s Newsnight, which is currently being sued over its reporting of oil trading firm Trafigura.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 17, 2009 at 9:10 pm