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Twitter Posts Mean ‘Nightmare’ Enforcing U.K. Super-Injunctions

Social media such as Twitter are making it difficult to enforce court orders to block the publishing of private information about celebrities and politicians. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Social media such as Twitter are making it difficult to enforce court orders to block the publishing of private information about celebrities and politicians. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

May 10 (Bloomberg) -- Politicians, celebrities and executives who won court orders blocking British newspapers from publishing stories about their private lives are finding social media is overcoming their so-called super-injunctions.

A Twitter Inc. user on May 8 posted a series of messages claiming a number of U.K. celebrities had won super-injunctions and made allegations detailing the activities that the notable people sought to keep out of the public eye. A day later the posts were still accessible and media lawyers said if someone didn’t take action against the person who posted the information, the injunctions will look unenforceable.

“This is one of those nightmare judicial situations,” James Quartermaine, a media lawyer at Charles Russell in London said in a telephone interview. “If a law doesn’t get enforced, it begins to look unenforceable.”

Privacy rulings have been on the rise since Formula One President Max Mosley won a ruling in 2008 that his privacy rights were violated by a story in News Corp.’s News of the World about a Nazi-themed sex party. The flurry of rulings brought opposition from Prime Minister David Cameron, who said Parliament, and not the courts, should set U.K. privacy law. One lawmaker estimated as many as 30 of the orders have been issued, with at least four granted within the last month.

Super-injunctions bar U.K. media from writing about extra-marital affairs or identifying celebrities involved.

Rod Dadak, a defamation lawyer at Lewis Silkin in London, said the Attorney General should be taking action.

‘Contempt’

“He’s in contempt, so he can be sent to prison,” Dadak said, referring to the Twitter user. “He’s contravened an order by the court not to name someone.”

Bernadette Caffarey, spokeswoman for Attorney General Dominic Grieve said that, as privacy injunctions are part of civil law, it is up to the people who have been named to sue.

“It is for the party who obtained an injunction to apply to the court if it wishes to do so to bring proceedings for contempt,” the communications office for the judiciary said in an e-mailed statement. “The court will not take action of its own initiative.”

If someone who holds a super-injunction seeks to enforce it regarding the Twitter posts, they face the hurdle of getting the identity of the poster from Twitter and the San Francisco-based company might not be inclined to help, Quartermaine said.

American firms “often tell you to ‘get stuffed’ if they get a letter from a U.K. media lawyer,” he said, noting that even if served with a U.K. court order, they may not comply.

Some U.S. states have laws designed to combat the rulings from London media courts, and the notion of a privacy order gagging newspapers “might stick in the throat a little, given American ideas about freedom of speech,” he said.

“It could get pretty political,” he said. “But any law that doesn’t get enforced quickly begins to look dodgy.”

Matt Graves, a spokesman for Twitter, tweeted and said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that the company doesn’t comment on individual accounts.

“In keeping with our policy, we review reports that accounts violate the Twitter Rules and Twitter terms of service,” Graves said.

Related News and Information: Bloomberg case filings: {BBLS <GO>} Top legal news: {NI TLAW <GO>} Media law news: {NI MEDIALAW <GO>} News on U.K. court rulings: {TNI UK VERDICTS <GO>}

To contact the reporter for this story: James Lumley in London at jlumley1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net.

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