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The banana cake of enduring freedom

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bananenkuche

I’m delighted to announce receipt of the first entry for the ‘Alternative Trafigura Art Prize’, which was launched earlier today.

This work, by the formidable human rights campaigner Sara H, is entitled ‘The banana cake of enduring freedom’ (‘Bananen-kuchen von bleibende freiheit’) and features a newly-baked replica of the cake which was tragically destroyed during the recent struggle to defend press freedom in the UK.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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In defence of flashmobs…

with 2 comments

Jack of Kent has written a characteristically thoughtful blogpost about this week’s ‘flashmob’ protest outside Carter Ruck’s offices. Here is my response, which I’ve also posted as a comment on the article itself:

Thanks for this post, David. As one of those involved in this week’s Carter Ruck protest I’m happy to debate the wider questions that you rightly point out such tactics raise.

In my view, companies who abuse human rights and/or pose a threat to democracy need to be named and shamed. This would surely include an oil company whose negilence led to 18 deaths and 30,000 injuries, and who then fought tooth and nail to silence media coverage of the issue. But it would also, I believe, include a legal firm who sought to advance their client’s interests by exploiting a demonstrably unjust law in order to suppress the right to freedom of speech. Should such a firm then seek to do the same by using similarly unjust laws to attack the fundamental underpinnings of the liberal democracy in which they exist, it is then time, in my view, for ordinary people to get on the streets and challenge them directly.

Carter Ruck this week sought, on behalf of their client, to use the law to prevent media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings. They then wrote to both the Speaker of the House of Commons, and every MP, in an apparent attempt to stop next week’s debate on freedom of speech. This was not the normal behaviour of a law firm in a healthy liberal democracy. In my view, these were political actions, and they were political actions characteristic of a dictatorial regime, not a free and open society. If a law firm starts playing politics (whether or not they do so on the instructions of a client), I believe that they then become a legitimate target for peaceful political protest.

Many people were killed, tortured or imprisoned to win and defend the democratic rights that we still largely enjoy in this country.  These freedoms are now in danger, and our democracy has already been outrageously degraded by the attacks we’ve seen on civil and political rights over the last decade. If we want to remain a largely liberal and democratic society, rather than sliding slowly towards some form of corrupt pseudo-democracy, I believe that we will need to start mobilising political action now against all those now chipping away at our democratic traditions – including, where necessary, law firms.

I don’t believe there is an absolute dividing line between liberal democratic societies and tyrannical ones. A largely liberal democracy may have unjust laws on its statute books, such as the law which led to the prosecution for homosexuality of one of our national heroes, Alan Turing, within living memory of our grandparents’ generation. More recently, it was still possible to be prosecuted in this country for “blasphemy”. Today, someone who writes an entirely truthful article about another living person can be spuriously prosecuted under a libel law which, due to the financial cost of obtaining adequate legal representation, effectively denies many defendants their right to a fair trial.

Where a lawyer chooses to collaborate with the enforcement of an unjust, undemocratic law, they cannot, in my view, insulate themselves from the moral consequences of that choice, even if they are working within a still-largely-democratic society, even if they are acting on the instructions of a client.

I fully agree that cheap shots at the entire legal profession are lazy and unhelpful, but in a way that’s exactly my point. Lawyers are (notwithstanding those cheap shots) human beings. Human beings are moral agents. Moral agents make choices for which they are morally responsible, including choices within their professional lives. Perhaps it’s true that some other lawyers would have done exactly the same as Carter Ruck did this week, but I know that there are many others who would have refused, and would have done so not on legal grounds but on moral ones. In a situation where, as we are now seeing, what is legally acceptable begins to drift away from what is morally right, the role of individual conscience becomes crucially important.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

The banana cake of liberty…

with 13 comments

liberty cakeSometimes we all have to make sacrifices…

From The Guardian

Just 42 minutes after the Guardian story was published, the internet had revealed what the paper could not.

Bloggers and the so-called Twitterati tonight claimed a historic victory for the power of the internet over what they saw as attempts by vested interests to shut down freedom of speech.

One of the quickest to reveal the full story was a 34-year old human rights activist, Richard Wilson. He was baking a banana cake in his kitchen in London when he first found out about the gag on the Guardian from a message posted on Twitter.

A few minutes of frantic internet searching later he published the fact that the gag related to Farrelly’s questions about Trafigura. He also published the text of the questions itself and became so absorbed in cracking the puzzle, his cake burned to a crisp. He said it was a small price to pay.

“I knew Trafigura were incredibly litigious and I knew Carter Ruck were defending them,” he explained. “I had a hunch, so I went to the website of the parliamentary order papers where they publish all the questions, searched for Trafigura and a question from Farrelly popped up and I tweeted it straight away. It took several tweets and then I pasted in the link.”

At 9.13pm he signed on to his Twitter account, printed the link to the Guardian report about the gag and wrote: “Any guesses what this is about? My money is on, ahem, #TRAFIGURA!”

By 9.30pm he had published all of Farrelly’s questions. He was not alone in trying to crack the puzzle. Paul Staines, the political blogger who uses the name Guido Fawkes, posted a blog making the link between the gag and Paul Farrelly’s questions just before 10pm.

From that point a torrent of references to the questions, the gag on the Guardian and Trafigura flooded out. According to Twitter at noon today, the three most popular search terms on the site were “outrageous gagging order trafigura dumping scandal”, “ruck” and “guardian”.

As exactly the publicity Trafigura was surely trying to avoid grew and grew, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, weighed in on Twitter at 10.01am stating: “Very interested concerned about this #trafigura / Guardian story the LibDems are planning to take action on this.”

Mainstream media, including the Spectator website also picked up the story with the thought: “It’s hard to recall, even in the long history of appalling gagging orders, a more disgraceful injunction than this.”

Satirists, such as Ian Martin, a writer on The Thick Of It, seized the opportunity to amplify the coverage that Trafigura was getting by repeating the company’s name again and again to ensure it became a “high trending” topic on Twitter.

During the morning, Private Eye was published and ran Farrelly’s questions in full as the first item on its politics page, although the bald presentation with no reference to the gagging order had long been superseded by the reports flowing across the internet.

All the while, efforts were continuing to persuade Trafigura to alter the terms of the order to allow the Guardian to report the parliamentary business, and at 12.19pm Carter Ruck emailed the Guardian agreeing to do so. In the end, the Twitterati claimed victory, led by one of its most popular users, the comedian Stephen Fry. “Can it be true?” he wrote. “Carter-Ruck caves in! Hurrah! Trafigura will deny it had anything to do with Twitter, but we know don’t we?”

NB – One crucial clarification – I’m ashamed to say that I had actually just been put in charge of minding the cake (and taking it out of the oven before it incinerated) after my wife went to bed. She has been very understanding…

UPDATE – By popular demand, here is the recipe for “Liberty Cake”: 9 bananas, 450g flour, 150g butter, 220g sugar, 2 eggs,1 lemon, tad lime juice, 4 tsp bicarb of soda. Mix. Bake to a crisp.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 14, 2009 at 6:16 am