Members of Britain’s Parliament are pressuring U.K. judges to reveal the identities of celebrities and executives who win court orders barring the media from reporting on their alleged indiscretions.
Lawmakers this month cited legislative “privilege” when, during open sessions of Parliament, they identified former Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Fred Goodwin and Ryan Giggs, a soccer player for Manchester United, in relation to injunctions they had won. The lawmakers’ actions suggest a war is brewing between Parliament and the courts over such orders, said London lawyer Niri Shan.
“It’s a farcical situation,” Shan, who heads the media practice at Taylor Wessing LLP, said yesterday in a phone interview. “The judge is saying one thing and people are popping up in Parliament and saying another. It’s a battle between Parliament and the courts.”
So-called super-injunctions typically prevent the media from writing about celebrity infidelities and may bar them from reporting the gag order exists. While lawmakers have taken to the floor of the House of Commons to skirt the rulings, users of Twitter Inc.’s social-networking website have posted names of celebrities protected by the injunctions.
John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, yesterday said Giggs’s name during a debate on injunction disputes, prompting the House of Commons Speaker to interrupt him and stop the lawmaker from continuing.
‘About 75,000 People’
“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter it is obviously impracticable to imprison them all,” Hemming said during the session. The online postings have repeatedly been cited in court as reasons to lift the injunctions.
“No member of Parliament should take it upon his or herself to name names without having read all the facts,” said Rod Dadak, a defamation lawyer at Lewis Silkin in London. Some lawmakers are “opportunistic” and seek to “use their privilege in entirely the wrong way.”
Ben Stoneham, a Liberal Democrat member of the upper House of Lords, said in Parliament last week that Goodwin’s injunction related to a relationship with a “senior colleague.” Hemmings disclosed the existence of the injunction in March, saying the court order prevented Goodwin from being identified as a banker.
The Parliamentary statements have had mixed results with the courts. Goodwin’s injunction was lifted to allow his identity to be disclosed. Two judges denied media requests to lift Giggs’s injunction after a Scottish newspaper and a lawmaker made disclosures.
News Corp. (NWSA)’s U.K. unit had asked the court to lift the ban so its Sun newspaper could openly write about the reasons behind the Giggs injunction. Media outlets argue the injunction is unsustainable.
There is no legitimate public interest in “kiss-and-tell” stories about soccer players and judges shouldn’t give in when their orders are defied, said Andrew Terry, a media and defamation lawyer with Eversheds LLP in London.
“Even though Ryan Giggs’s name may be widely publicized, whether in defiance by MPs and via Twitter or eventually by permission of the courts, that does not mean that his private life is now fair game,” Terry said.
‘Flouting’ Court Order
Two senior U.K. judges who last week delivered a report on super-injunctions, questioned whether “it is a very good idea for our lawmakers to be in effect flouting a court order just because they disagree with the order.”
“It is a very serious issue, in my view,” Chief Justice Igor Judge told reporters. “We are following the law as best we understand it.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will establish a joint committee of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to review U.K. privacy laws, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said. The committee will “establish how matters can be improved,” Grieve told lawmakers in London today.
The number of gag orders has risen since Formula One President Max Mosley won a ruling in 2008 that his privacy was violated by a story in the News of the World about a Nazi-themed sex party. One lawmaker estimated last month that more than 30 of the so-called super-injunctions had been issued.
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