Hain legal battle 'highly significant'

Published Tuesday, 24 April 2012
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A lawyer defending Labour MP Peter Hain against claims he "scandalised a judge" has challenged whether the offence still exists in law.

Hain legal battle 'highly significant'
Former Secretary of State Peter Hain made the comments in his autobiography. (© Getty)

The ex-Secretary of State is the subject of contempt of court proceedings, brought by Northern Ireland's Attorney General, John Larkin, over comments Mr Hain made in his autobiography.

The Neath MP commented on the judge's handling of a judicial review case over Mr Hain's decision to appoint police widow Bertha McDougall as an interim victims commissioner.

At a preliminary court hearing in Belfast on Tuesday, Mr Hain's lawyer David Dunlop also questioned if the case complied with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"One issue is whether the offence of contempt the Attorney General seeks to prosecute actually remains in existence in terms of common law," said Mr Dunlop.

Belfast's High Court heard how Mr Dunlop believes the case is "highly significant in terms of the implications there are for freedom of expression and free speech".

During the half-hour hearing, the Attorney General said it was important that public confidence in the judiciary was protected.

"The fair criticism of judges and judicial decisions is not only quite clearly a right, there are also occasions when there may be a duty to do it," he said.

"Citizens are entitled to have confidence in the administration of justice; they should not be improperly deprived of this entitlement or have it endangered," he added.

The full case will be heard on June 19.

© UTV News
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