Peter Hain Contempt Case Condemned By MPs

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MPs have rallied behind Peter Hain | PA

More than 120 MPs have condemned a bid to prosecute former Cabinet minister Peter Hain for 'scandalising a judge'.

Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin has signalled that Hain and his publishers will face contempt of court over criticisms of Lord Justice Girvan in his memoirs. But an early day motion (EDM) tabled in parliament by Tory backbencher David Davis calls for the proceedings to be dropped.

The text has already been signed by 123 MPs from across parties - including ex-Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, Labour's David Blunkett and Alistair Darling, and senior Conservatives such as Graham Brady and John Redwood. Davis said the issue was "extraordinarily important".

"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," he said.

"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."

David Cameron indicated his concerns over the development in the Commons on Wednesday.

He said: "There are occasions as we all know when judges make critical remarks about politicians and there are occasionally times when politicians make critical remarks about judges. To me this is part of life in a modern democracy and I think we want to keep these things as far as possible out of the courts."

The EDM states: "That this House... 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."