Over a hundred MPs have signed up to a call for the legal action against Neath MP Peter Hain to be dropped. Mr Hain faces prosecution for critical comments about a Northern Irish judge made in his recently-published autobiography. Conservative MP David Davis has tabled an Early Day Motion urging the Northern Ireland Attorney General to withdraw the contempt proceedings. Mr Davis says,
This is an extraordinarily important issue. In the event that this legal action against Mr Hain succeeded members of parliament and even Ministers would feel extraordinarily constrained in any criticism they might make of the judicial process and judiciary in the United Kingdom. Even the threat of the costs and distraction involved in dealing with such an action would have a severe chilling effect on the freedom of speech which is fundamental in keeping our institutions healthy. The importance of this issue is reinforced by the number of MPs who have immediately signed it, and by the number of ex Cabinet Ministers including previous Home Secretaries who have given their support.
This is the text of the EDM:
Freedom of Speech for Members That this House, noting the deeply disturbing use of the ancient offence of 'scandalising a judge', considered obsolete since the end of the nineteenth century, by the Northern Ireland Attorney General against the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the Right Honourable Member for Neath and Biteback Publishing, over a passage in his memoir describing an episode in 2005-6 leading up to the historic 2007 political settlement, calls upon the Northern Ireland Attorney General to end this serious attack on free speech by withdrawing the proceedings for contempt, further asserts the fundamental right of Members of this House to express their views responsibly without fear of judicial censorship, and invites Mr Speaker to consider what action the House might take to defend its rights against such attacks
It's understood those who've signed the EDM include former Chancellor Alistair Darling, former Home Secretary David Blunkett, former Welsh Secretary John Redwood and former Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley.
Mr Blunkett raised the case during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday (Wednesday). David Cameron said where possible such cases should 'stay out of the courts.'