The Attorney General of Northern Ireland “accordingly considers it appropriate that the author and publisher of ‘Outside In’ should be punished for contempt of court”

If the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland [and Wales, etc! – Ed], Peter Hain, MP, thought his recent controversial remarks about Lord Justice Girvan had been forgotten about, he’s had to think again.  As a statement from his publisher reveals

On 20 March 2012 Lord Justice Higgins granted leave to the Attorney General of Northern Ireland to bring proceedings for contempt of court against Biteback Publishing and Peter Hain.  The proceedings relate to a passage in Peter Hain’s memoir, OUTSIDE IN, in which Peter Hain makes critical remarks about the Northern Irish judge, Judge Girvan (now Lord Justice Girvan), relating in particular to a 2006 Judicial Review case heard by Judge Girvan regarding the appointment of Bertha MacDougall  as Interim Victims Commissioner.

According to the Statement filed by the Attorney General in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, the passages in the book “constitute unwarranted abuse of a judge in his judicial capacity that undermines the administration of justice in this jurisdiction, and consequently constitute a contempt of court” and publication of the passages “create without justification a real risk that public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined”.  According to the Attorney General, the contempt of court has been aggravated by public comments made by Mr Hain since the book was published.  The Attorney General of Northern Ireland “accordingly considers it appropriate that the author and publisher of ‘Outside In’ should be punished for contempt of court”.

The case  is listed for review by the Divisional Court in Belfast on 24 April 2012. 

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  • “Doughty Street Chambers silk Gavin Millar QC is to defend Labour MP Peter Hain against contempt of court claims after the former Cabinet minister criticised a judge in his memoirs. .. Both the ex-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the publisher have instructed London-based RPC, which has turned to Millar to defend what they claim is an “arcane” and “obsolete” interpretation of the contempt law not used in more than 100 years.” source The Lawyer

  • The Raven

    Bearing in mind the litigious nature of the whole affair, may I take this all back a step, and looking at it in the round:

    “constitute unwarranted abuse of a judge in his judicial capacity”

    So they’re above criticism and reproach? They cannot be criticised at all? No one, from the bottom up, can write, speak or otherwise enunciate their criticism of a judicial outcome, whether being involved in the case or not? No-one can comment negatively on the decision of an unelected, highly-paid public servant? So I can’t go on Stephen Colon’s show after a public case and give off about the nature and decisions of the judiciary?

    and

    “create without justification a real risk that public confidence in the judicial system will be undermined”

    What? You think it took Peter Hain to achieve this…??

    My apologies to now-lord-justice Girvan, whomever he may be, but if he, and our Attorney General (who elected him, by the way?) can’t handle criticism, then I suggest some mentoring or coaching needs to be undertaken.

    Mods, if I’ve overstepped the mark, please just delete this.

    I’m just asking the question. That’s all.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t *think* you have. And, btw, I think it is good practice given the nature of the case that others follow your rule and not reference directly the case in hand.. Contempt of court is a very serious offence and not one to be taken lightly.

  • alan56

    Unbelievable. Some of these legal characters need to grow up and get a life. So obvious that they do not live in the real world. Its this kind of arrogance that gets their profession/trade a bad name.

  • The Raven

    Mick, thanks, and I refer as above – any doubt, please just delete; no offence will be taken and I’ll hit the tip jar with the equivalent cost of a legal defence. 😉

  • Pete Baker

    Raven

    “So they’re above criticism and reproach? They cannot be criticised at all?”

    Well that would appear to be what Peter Hain’s brief will be arguing.

    The problem for Peter Hain is that he didn’t simply criticise the judge or his ruling.

    He claimed in the book that the then-Mr Justice Girvan had been “going out of his way legally to damage [him]”.

    Which would be improper – in the same sense that the then-Mr Justice Girvan found Peter Hain had acted.

    Despite the pleading now, this isn’t about “freedom of speech”, nor is it about arcane laws.

    Peter Hain can say, and write, what he likes. But he has to face the consequences. Just like anyone else.

  • I believed from the start that Hain’s remarks were totally uncalled for and suggested that he might be charged with contempt of court.

  • Alias

    “What? You think it took Peter Hain to achieve this…??”

    Larkin thinks so, since he is referring specifically to the nature of Hain’s remarks. Also, the qualifier is key: without justification. In other words, you can criticise the Courts without sanction if your criticism is justified.

  • DC

    I believe the comments are nothing more than an annoyance to Sir Frederick, but should the public have to pay for determining just how much of a personal annoyance to him this really is should the outcome not go his way?

    It could turn into a bit of a farce as what’s the saying: no man a judge in his own cause?

    A judge-driven process, all getting together to decide on whether these comments caused any damage to their profession, a bias-free process?

  • I now make it a cardinal principle never to comment on a Pete Baker thread: it always ends in being traduced or red-carded.

    Still: two questions:

    Who around these parts took the trouble to read Hain’s apologia?

    Who would like to refresh us on the context of these contentious remarks?

  • Pete Baker

    Malcolm

    “Who would like to refresh us on the context of these contentious remarks?”

    Feel free to click on the link in the original post. The one behind the text – “controversial remarks about Lord Justice Girvan“.

    And as long as you behave yourself, the mods won’t be obliged to card you.

  • mick mccann

    The Raven (whomever he may be),

    ““constitute unwarranted abuse of a judge in his judicial capacity”

    So they’re above criticism and reproach? They cannot be criticised at all?”

    ‘Unwarranted abuse’ and ‘criticism’ are two different things. Hain did not criticise, he stated he had to re-consider appointing Girvan to the Court of Appeal bench because he didn’t like a judgment he gave against him as SoS.

    “My apologies to now-lord-justice Girvan, whomever he may be, but if he, … can’t handle criticism, then I suggest some mentoring or coaching needs to be undertaken.”

    The case is not taken by Girvan, its the AG. I am sure Girvan can take criticism. For those practising in the legal profession will tell you he is certainly one of the most respected judges at the High Court (if not the most respected, after Mr Justice Weatherup).

    He is also one of the brightest at the bench with excellent judgments, who is not afraid to tackle the establishment. Also one of the youngest ever QCs (in his mid-30s) and I was once told he came highest in his year in the bar exams in England and Wales as a pupil barrister.

  • The yokel

    Judges don’t dispense justice or make common sense decisions, they interpret and apply the law. Hain’s decision on the appointment of the commissioner was subject to judicial review which deemed that this was subject to undue political influence. Peter Hain disagreed. His recourse should have been through the courts, not insulting the judge in a book. A secretary of state should know better. The current legal move is to teach him a lesson. Whether that’s wise is another question all together.

  • Michael Shilliday

    The Attorney General of Northern Ireland “accordingly considers it appropriate that the author and publisher of ‘Outside In’ should be punished for contempt of court”.

    Erm, tried for, surely. Is the Attorney General the tribunal of fact in Contempt cases in Northern Ireland?

  • The Raven

    Setting aside the case, bearing in mind Mick’s warning about contempt of court, and again, looking at it all in the round:

    Mick McCann – I do not doubt that this individual is a highly intelligent human being. No judge isn’t.

    I do not doubt that “‘Unwarranted abuse’ and ‘criticism’ are two different things.” The legal eagles can decide which of the two it is.

    I appreciate the perception of how the public thinks the law should be applied (“hanging is too good fer ’em!”) versus the reality which is applied by judges with their amassed knowledge.

    My problem – and I acknowledge what Pete has said in his reply to me – is that *I perceive* a higher standard of being beyond reproach/criticism/abuse/whatever is being set for judges – judges, which are to little old me, civil servants by any other name. The man in the street doesn’t have an attorney general acting as wingman. Nor does he have the considerable financial resources to respond when he comes in for “unwarranted abuse”.

    I’m genuinely delighted to hear that the Lord Justice is not afraid to tackle the establishment. I’m disappointed to read that a third party public servant is making this case because – let’s not beat about the bush – he didn’t like to hear an opinion, regardless of its delivery, which is contrary to outcome.

    So, being utterly silly again, can I reasonably expect the AG to shut down the Stephen Colon show the next time Joe from The Falls/Shankill rings in and criticises a judge’s sentencing of a joy rider…? And as DC infers above: what will be the cost of teaching the SoS a lesson…?

  • OK: I get it.

    Over the last five years or so, since Hain’s original “offence”, nobody here has actually read the book. This is entirely based on second-hand hearsay and selective quotation.

    Equally, my original offence was to quote a source directly, unBowdlerized and verbatim, which is also not done on a Pete Baker thread.

    Both points taken.

    Over and out.

  • Taoiseach

    While agreeing that judges aren’t above criticism, still, hard not to enjoy Hain getting it in the neck. Should be a bit of fun.

  • As i thought: it boils down to the old seperation of powers argument.

  • faustus

    Perhaps if a judge feels slighted he should fund a legal challenge himself. It seems remarkable that when legal aid funding is being slashed and only those cases considered a threat to life or liberty are deemed suitable for public funds, we have the AG fighting battles at the publics expense on behalf of private individuals.

  • Butterknife (nice one!) has a point.

    Judges on the bench are one matter: respect for the office and the coat of arms on the wall behind them, etc.

    Once an opinion or a judgement has been delivered, though, it should be open house. I can think of times out of numbering when the newspapers have excoriated daft statements emanating from the wigs, frocks and silk-stocking types, and got away with the dirty deed.

    Look further at that hot-link to The Lawyer, and note the comment appended by Peter Flacke (there is a Cardiff lawyer of that name), reminding us that Ludovic Kennedy did a Hain on several senior judges in his memoir, with no come-back.

    Kennedy, of course, was a member of the confraternity. And hadn’t been marked down for life-long harassment by the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and its fellow-travellers. [That last bit ought to guarantee a yellow card here, or a dawn knock from The Enforcers.]

  • Are members of the judiciary being overly sensitive? Some senior politicians are being very critical:

    David Blunket: “Shouldn’t respect for the independence of the judiciary be balanced by the rights of individuals to fair comment on that judiciary?”

    David Cameron: “There are occasions as we all know when judges make critical remarks about politicians and there are occasionally times when politicians make critical remarks about judges”

    There must be far more important issues to exercise the judiciary.

  • Pete Baker

    The key point about Blunkett’s question being “fair comment”.

    That’s where Hain stepped over the line.

  • A few critical comments by a politician, even a Minister, are most unlikely to do anything more than inflict a bloodless scratch on the surface of what passes and has passed for the administration of justice in these parts for the past couple of generations.

  • Footnote:

    David Blunkett dropped this one into PMQs on Wednesday.

    The subsequent Commons EDM motion is now up on line. There’s a sting in the tail, which:

    invites Mr Speaker to consider what action the House might take to defend its rights against such attacks.

    The headline supporters are some real heavyweights, past and present: David Davis; Blunkett; Alastair Darling; Charles Kennedy; Peter Lilley and Paul Murphy. The other names, making a total of 126 to date (some more relevant to NI) are worth a look, if only to spot the absentees.