Peter Hain's lawyer questions if legal action lawful

Attorney General John Larkin represented himself

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A lawyer for the former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has questioned whether the legal action against him over his autobiography is lawful.

At a preliminary hearing at Belfast High Court, David Dunlop said the contempt of court proceedings being taken by NI's attorney general may have no basis in common law.

Attorney General John Larkin represented himself.

Mr Hain was not in court.

Mr Dunlop also questioned whether the case complied with the European Convention on Human Rights.

At the centre of the case, are remarks in Mr Hain's recently-published autobiography, Outside in.

In the book, he criticised Lord Justice Paul Girvan - and one of the judgements he made in Belfast six years ago.

The case is being taken by Mr Larkin, on the basis that Mr Hain's criticism undermined the administration of justice, and constituted unwarranted abuse of a judge.

In court this morning, Mr Larkin made it clear that he was not arguing that all criticism of judges was contempt of court.

However, he said criticism which undermined public confidence in the administration of justice should not be permitted.

He said citizens were entitled to have confidence in the justice system.

A full hearing on the case will be held on 19 June.

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