Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain is to face legal action over critical comments he made about a leading Northern Irish judge in his recently-published memoir.
Mr Hain, who is a former Northern Ireland Secretary made the comments about the handling of a judicial review case handled by Lord Justice Girvan in 2006.
According to the book's publisher, Biteback, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has been granted leave to bring proceedings for contempt of court against both the publisher and Mr Hain.
Biteback's statement says that the Attorney General believes that 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
Peter Hain has said,
I am astonished at this turn of events. I worked harder than anyone as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to uphold the rule of law and judicial independence and delivered the 2007 settlement which helped secure that. If free speech and comment in a political memoir is to be suppressed then people will be entitled to ask: what system of justice prevails?
The case is listed for review by the Divisional Court in Belfast on 24 April 2012. Biteback Managing Director Iain Dale has issued this statement:
I am advised that proceedings for contempt for criticising judges have been considered obsolete in Englandand Wales since the end of the nineteenth century. Our lawyers are not aware of any such case having been brought in Northern Ireland in living memory. As a publisher I strongly support free speech, not least by our elected politicians, and we will therefore be vigorously defending this case.
As is normal in the case of memoirs of former cabinet ministers, we submitted the manuscript of the book to the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office for their comments in advance of publication. Neither office requested any changes to those parts of the book that relate to Judge Girvan