NEWS: Guardian tries tactic to halt Greer libel trial

The forthcoming High Court legal battle between lobbyist Ian Greer and the Guardian over the cash for questions affair may still founder on the issue of Parliamentary privilege.

The forthcoming High Court legal battle between lobbyist Ian Greer and

the Guardian over the cash for questions affair may still founder on the

issue of Parliamentary privilege.



The four-week trial, involving Ian Greer, his firm Ian Greer Associates

and ex-corporate affairs minister Neil Hamilton, in a joint action,

against the Guardian, journalist David Hencke and the newspaper’s

editorial director Peter Preston, is due to kick off on 1 October.



The trial follows an October 1994 Guardian article, which alleged that

Hamilton received payment for asking Parliamentary questions in an IGA

campaign, on behalf of Harrods’ owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. Hamilton, MP for

Tatton, resigned from ministerial office over the affair, as the debate

over Tory sleaze reached its height.



An earlier libel action was stayed in July 1995, after it was ruled that

Parliamentary privilege, enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights, would

have prevented the Guardian from getting a fair trial. This led to the

inclusion of a clause in this year’s Defamation Act, tabled in the Lords

by Lord Hoffman, which allows MPs to waive Parliamentary privilege in

libel cases.



However, a closed legal session on 16 August, to determine whether the

act should enable the libel action to go ahead, may halt the trial

again.



Lawyers acting for the Guardian look set to argue that, because another

Tory MP cited in the crucial article, Tim Smith, has not waived

Parliamentary privilege - despite admitting receiving cash for

questions, and subsequently resigning as junior Northern Ireland

minister - they will be prevented from putting vital information before

the court.



Greer is seeking special damages from the Guardian of more than pounds 2

million for the harm he claims the allegations have caused IGA’s

business.



Andrew Smith, IGA managing director, said at the time the Defamation

Bill passed its third reading that the firm would pursue the action to

‘the ‘nth’ degree’.



The Greer/Hamilton team is using leading libel firm Peter Carter-Ruck,

while the Guardian is using specialist media lawyers Olswang.



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