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
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
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
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
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.