Embattled home secretary Suella Braverman is facing further questions about her judgement after it emerged that her officials demanded a 120-year-old magazine for solicitors remove an opinion piece because they did not like what it said.
They told the Law Society Gazette that the article “should not have been published in the form that it has”.
One added: “I’d really like it taken down and rewritten”, a Freedom of Information (FOI) release shows.
The exchange took place at the same time as Ms Braverman was promising the government would ‘strengthen’ freedom of expression.
Rishi Sunak has come under fire for reappointing Ms Braverman as home secretary last week just days after she resigned over a security breach. She has since been forced to admit she sent official documents from her government email address to her personal account address no fewer than six times.
The extraordinary demands to the magazine were made at the start of this year, when Ms Braverman was the Attorney General.
Just a month earlier, in a piece in The Telegraph newspaper, Ms Braverman said that the then planned bill of rights would “strengthen” the right to freedom of expression and “preserve space for wide and vigorous democratic debate”.
She added that the bill would “make clear the utmost importance attached to this right” and that in balancing competing rights the courts should “only interfere with it where there are exceptional reasons to do so”.
But just weeks later officials in the Attorney General’s Office were writing to the Gazette demanding they remove the opinion piece from their website. The article was not taken down.
Martin Bright, editor-at-large at Index on Censorship, which campaigns for freedom of expression, said: “Suella Braverman has every right to object to articles written about her and to ask for a right of reply if she feels she has been misrepresented. But it is seriously concerning that her office demanded the suppression of an opinion piece by a serious journalist in a respected publication. The piece was asking if the office of Attorney General had become too politicised on her watch. This heavy-handed intervention rather appears to prove it had.”
Eduardo Reyes, the Commissioning and Features Editor of the Law Society Gazette, said: “I can only guess that this attempt to curate the then Attorney General’s image was a sign of a press office under pressure. It’s otherwise hard to account for the lack of judgement from civil servants, because it really does cross a line, doesn’t it?”
The Attorney General’s Office had been approached for comment before the opinion piece was published.
The FOI also shows that officials in the AGO asked the journalist a number of times to submit the piece to them in draft form before publication, a move considered unethical by most journalists.
Both the Home Office and the Attorney General’s Office have been approached for comment.