Contempt Proceedings against Hain Dropped; IT'S A VICTORY FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH, SAYS NEATH MP
Byline: STEVEN MCCAFFERY, MICHAEL MCHUGH; JOE CHURCHER
COURT proceedings against former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain over comments in his memoirs about a judge were dropped at the High Court in Belfast yesterday.
The contempt of court case against Mr Hain, the Neath MP and a former Northern Ireland Secretary, was shelved after he wrote to the province's Attorney General John Larkin QC clarifying remarks he made about a High Court judge in his autobiography.
In the letter, Mr Hain said he had never intended to question Lord Justice Paul Girvan's motivation in handling a judicial review and had not been questioning his capabilities as a judge.
And his publishers said a footnote would be inserted in future editions of the book containing Mr Hain's clarification.
In the light of that, Mr Larkin said, a case against Mr Hain did not now need to continue.
Both sides yesterday claimed the decision as a victory, and a validation of their actions.
Mr Larkin said that had Mr Hain provided his letter at an earlier date the case would never have made it to court.
Speaking outside Belfast's High Court, he said: "It is a victory for the administration of justice and it is important to point out that had Mr Hain provided the explanation and clarification which he now has, either in response to the statement issued by the Lord Chief Justice (Declan Morgan) or indeed in respect to pre-action correspondence, we simply would not have been here."
Mr Hain, who was not in court, issued a statement with his publisher Biteback proclaiming the ruling as a "victory for free speech".
He said: "In September we will be publishing the paperback edition of Outside In without changing in any way the section that gave offence to some in the Northern Ireland judiciary.
"We were fully prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, and our lawyers were confident of the outcome.
"But, after the astonishing decision to bring the prosecution, we are delighted that common sense has prevailed and that taxpayers have been saved a great deal of money in legal fees. …