Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Centre for Social Cohesion

  I understand you are looking into the law-firm Carter-Ruck as part of a Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on Press Standards, Privacy and Libel. I hope the following information may be of interest.

The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) is a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in the UK. In May 2008 the CSC proposed to release "A Guide to British Muslim Organisations", a handbook which intended to give the background, stated aims and current political attitudes of approximately 25 Muslim-run groups in the UK.

  One of the groups we studied for this proposed report was Interpal, a Muslim charity that describes itself as a "non-political, non-profit making British charity that works with international funding partners and partners on the ground to provide relief and development aid to Palestinians in need, mainly in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan".

  The report's entry on Interpal covered a variety of the group's activities, including its stated aims. However as part of an attempt to give a rounded picture, it also referred to its proscription by the US Government as a terrorist organisation in 2003; a BBC Panorama documentary outlining its alleged glorification of terrorism and alleged links to Hamas, a designated terrorist group in the US and the European Union; and three Charity Commission investigations launched to ascertain whether Interpal had fundraised for Hamas (in which the CSC specified that the Commission were yet to find any evidence of wrong-doing on Interpal's part).

  All the information in the report was a matter of public record. However in order to allow the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies, on 26 March 2008 the CSC sent all organisations featured in the report a draft version of those sections relevant to them.

  On 2 April 2008 the CSC received a libel threat from Interpal, who were being represented by Carter-Ruck. The letter specified that the CSC's work was "grossly defamatory" and "entirely untrue", although did not highlight which extracts specifically were so. They also denied being a "Muslim organisation", and therefore not eligible for inclusion in the report. This was despite accepting that all their trustees and staff, and most of the charity's beneficiaries, were Muslim, and our draft document highlighting a quote from Interpal Chairman Ibrahim Hewitt in which he calls the group "Muslim-run".

  The CSC was at that stage an extremely young organisation, and the libel threat issued by Carter-Ruck was the primary reason we could not publish the report. However I feel that a small organisation such as the CSC being threatened with a lawsuit and potential bankruptcy simply for reproducing information already reported in numerous reputable sources is an unacceptable restriction on freedom of speech.

  I have attached all relevant documentation.[114] Please feel free to get in contact if you would like to discuss this matter further.

November 2009

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