John Hemming MP writes: This country has allowed too much secret justice to develop

What Ryan Giggs wished to kept secret was a trivial issue that has been widely publicised as a result of him having the injunction. It was estimated that some 60% of the population knew who he was.

However, last week he started through his lawyers the process of enforcement of the court order. That was being done through getting from Twitter the details of people who had posted entries on Twitter. Anyone who wanted to keep their identity secret could do so. Hence the only targets they would get are people who live in England or Wales and have posted under their own identity.

A prosecution for contempt of court is a serious thing. About two months ago I dealt with Vicky Haigh who was being prosecuted for contempt of court in a hearing with reporting restrictions. The hearing prevented revealing her name and prevented revealing the name of the local authority responsible. I revealed those in parliamentary proceedings.

Contempt of court involves potentially a two year jail sentence. I think it is wrong for anyone to be prosecuted for gossiping about trivia on twitter. Additionally it is wrong to go after ordinary people anonymously.

I also identified Giles Coren who it is reported has been threatened with similar proceedings, but whose name it was reported could not be reported.

This country has allowed too much secret justice to develop. Parliament can stand up to protect people who face such oppressive tactics. That is parliament’s job.

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46 Comments

  • I salute you sir. You made me proud to be a Liberal Democrat. John for Leader!

    Ignore the critics. They don’t really understand what is at stake here. I suggest they go and form the Privacy Democrats and leave protecting liberty to liberals.

  • Shortly after his election in 2005, John Hemming made headlines when it was revealed that he was the father of a child with his personal assistant and fellow councillor Emily Cox, though he would stay with his wife and her three children. His wife Christine commented that she forgave him and is standing by him, as he has always been honest about his extramarital affairs, of which she said this was “about number 26″.

    My word beyond sleazy I wonder if you would like all his ex-matrial indescretion and financial affairs investigated by a paper like the scum.

  • I deplore that you disclosed this man’s name. There was no need to do so unless of course you did not have the ability to argue your case. I did not know that Parliamentary Privilege would permit such actions and indeed, I hope that this privilege is reviewed to ensure that citizens of this country who are afforded protection of the Courts are not named. A reminder that the Judiciary interpret the law that is made in the House. If you believe that the law is wrong then you as an elected representative should be doing everything possible to change that law.

    As to your claim of secrecy and Courts again such “secret” hearings are determined by law. They relate to national security and in the case you mentioned Child Protection which is held in Family Courts. There are restrictions quite rightly in reporting of these issues. You failed to mention that the issue with Ms Haigh relates to Child Protection Issues and that was why it was held in Closed Court – not a Secret Court as the Judgement would be recorded and subject to appeal. I personally, would prefer to have all family courts opened with the child’s name witheld. Again, this is an issue for Parliament.

    You have had your period in the limelight. I personally think less of you for what you have done. You have failed to persuade me of your reasons for naming the footballer in Court in this article or on Newsnight.. Further, you are being selective in not providing the law governing Family Courts. Do you want to have children’s names bandied about in the press regarding sexual and physical abuse, custody issues as to suitability of parents, adoption etc etc. Shame on you.

  • John – I’ll repeat my question posted on your blog which you didn’t answer. Did you have access to all the information which was available to the Judge when you decided on your course of action?

    Aren’t the twitter’s merely dessiminating information? And didn’t you once bring a libel action against the leader of Birmingham City Council not for printing a leaflet but for being involved in its delivery?

  • Hywel – As far as I know Mr Hemming is not opposed to libel law.

    Do you think it was wrong to name Goodwin, after all, can’t we say that those who named him did not have access to all the info? What about the MP who named the compnay in Africa destryoing the lives of many poor people? Was he wrong to name them in case he did not have all the information? How far do you want to take this argument? Why should judges be allowed to make rulings after all they might not have access to all the information?

  • I agree with David Cohen, and therefore – of course – John Hemming.

    Hywel – I don’t think it matters at all whether John had the full facts of the case. Let a free press print… if it’s not true, Giggs can resort to the law of libel; if the information was obtained illegally, a free press is open to prosecution for whatever laws it has broken. There should be no other barrier to allowing a free press to print what it likes, and certainly not the defence that it might upset his kids.

  • “I wonder if you would like all his ex-matrial indescretion and financial affairs investigated by a paper like the scum.”

    McIntosh, you don’t understand, do you? The sleazy tabloids don’t give a monkeys about ‘exposing’ people who don’t give a monkeys.

    It is down to ‘Imogen’ how much she wants to tell the world about the man who has painted her as a gold-digging blackmailer. Whether or not she gets paid for this and whether or not it sells papers is irrelevant.

  • There is a strong arguable case for a public interest defence in both Goodwin and Trafigura (and Trafigura is about legally privileged documents rather than privacy – I don’t think anyone is saying we should scrap the concept of protecting legally privileged communications). I don’t think I’ve criticised either – nor have I criticised John for his previous steps in attacking court secrecy.

    As regards Judges, if Barristers are instructed they will be under a professional duty to put their clients case as strongly as possible so after a full hearing the judge would be entitled to assume they had access to all the information.

  • “What Ryan Giggs wished to kept secret was a trivial issue that has been widely publicised as a result of him having the injunction”

    It was widely publicised in contravention of a legal ruling made by a judge. You may like to ignore the law, and cowardly hide behind privilege when doing so, others do not have that option. It is not trivial to his children who stand the risk of being bullied, how did you consider them ?

    You’re not some brave campaigner for justice, they are the type of person who would have made a public statement without privilege.

    “However, last week he started through his lawyers the process of enforcement of the court order.”

    Explain how a private individual can enforce a Court Order. Only the Court can do so. Did you attempt to ascertain the reason for seeking the Twitter records ? If one of the tweeters was in fact a journalist attempting to get the injunction lifted for gain (either for himself or his employer) then this should have been viewed by the Court as a serious matter. What legal opinion did you seek that a judge would have viewed other tweeters as in contempt ?

    You never gave the court chance to decide what, if any, contempt had occured believing yourself to be better placed. If you are so sure so many were at risk what contact did you make with the lawers seeking the information to ascertain their reasons for doing so ?

    You mention secret justice, there has been none in this case. Who has been tried for contempt ? if you were true to your supposed morals you could have waited until that point.

    Maybe one day you will be hounded by the press and your family hurt through no fault of their own, perhaps then you would understand what it feels like. Giggs is, in my opinion, an idiot, his wife and children are not. Privacy is a right, where is the public interest in who sleeps with whom, please do not equate it to the Goodwin case, there is a real public interest there.

    The real hypocrisy here is that everyone thinks that David Laws was so badly dealt with for trying to keep his personal life secret. He broke the rules, Giggs, whatever your opinion of his morals may be, kept to them in order to seek to keep his personal life private. Look at the outcry when MP’s were recorded making contradictory statements in their public capacity. Lib Dem MP’s can have secrets just not anyone else…

    After Diana died as a Country we took a breath and realised the seeking of private details of the lives of famous people had the potential to cause real harm. It seems that has been forgotten and the ruining the lives of those close to people who commit adultery is OK as long as the Sun turn a profit.

    This has been a pathetic abuse of Parliamentary Privilege. MP’s make laws, judges interpret them. You have the power to change them if you think they are wrong.

    @David Cohen
    “I suggest they go and form the Privacy Democrats”
    Good plan, I guess in your world the Lib Dems have not lost enough voters you now want those who disagree to go elsewhere. Happy to do so if this MP is shown to be supported widely. I hope though the more common sense approach of Stephen Tall and Mark Pack (both of whom have posted concerns over this) represent the more mainstream views.

  • Jason Lower
    “or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” None of which can be said to apply here.”

    I’m sorry but the “other Woman” in this saga was basically being accused of blackmail. A charge she could neither defend in public, because of the injuction, or in the courts, because of the cost. This law is designed to only protect the privacy of those who can afford it.

  • “The Human Rights Act, which we still rightly (in my opinion) support, states that everyone has a right to privacy save for in the “interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.””

    Privacy is a third party matter. NOT a ‘second party’ matter.

    If two people start getting genitally-involved with each other, either of them can properly tell their mum, their kids, their mates or paint it on the Millennium Stadium. Becoming intimately involved with someone means you put yourself ‘at their merrcy’. If you tell their brother that they are impotent then that is your business. When one party or other or both decides a relationship has ‘broken down’, this does not suddenly give one party the right to decide who the other party can or cannot tell about their relationship’s ups and downs. That is not ‘privacy’, that is CONTROLLING BULLYING.

  • @Jason Lower
    Don’t bother quoting the Human Rights Act, some here only believe in the bits they like. I suppose they will now join the Tories in getting it changed. Privacy is a right in a liberal society.

    Is it not also a bit hypocritical to allow Twitter users privacy when Giggs has not been allowed that same right ?

  • McIntosh – isn’t it wonderful that you can repeat those things and not fear going to prison for 2 years because John instrcuts lawyers to go after you?

  • Jason writes ‘John Hemming should not be the judge above all others as he seemed to want to be yesterday’.

    Nope, that would be Mr Justice Eady who has created a privacy law. Parliament have clearly stated free espression should take primacy over privacy. He is not interpreting the law but creating it.

    This idea that people should face 2 years in prison for stating the truth because his kids might be hurt is absurd.

  • John Richardson 24th May '11 - 12:52pm

    Free speech and privacy are two competing but equally valuable human rights. Hemming has made a mockery of the current law and I hope now he will focus on helping to create a new law which strikes a proper balance. It’s time to put a stop to oppressive behaviour by free speech extremists and introduce a proper, legally guaranteed, expectation of privacy for all.

  • John Richardson – Free speech extremists ?? LOL. I am reminded of Goldwater who said something like this – ‘extremism in the defence of freedom is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virute’.

    Stop always trying to find a middle ground, its predictable and boring.

    Hemming did not make a mockery of the law. The judges did that when they made it possible for someone to be convicted in secret for telling the truth on the net.

  • John – you are doing very good and important work here. It is shameful that you seem to be the only one of our parliamentary representatives who is concerned about secret justice.

  • @Jason – In explicit terms you are correct. But s12 does go some way to doing that, certainly as far as interim remedies are concerned.

    The counterveiling view is that an interim injunction only says that someone is delayed from exercising their right. A loss of privacy can never be recovered. That tilts the old-school balance of convenience test for interim injunctions significantly in favour of privacy claimants (and was one reason for this section).

  • i really cant stand these people who, uriah heap like, grovel to the great and the good – ‘they deserve their privacy’. turns my stomach to witness such toadying.

    but just as bad, if not worse, are those that suggest that privacy trumps free speech. if experience teaches us anything it is that secrecy leads to bad things happening. why is it all the most despotic regimes like secrecy?

    and i find it intriguing that extreme liberalism meets up with totalitarianism in the idea that secrecy, hidden behind the self righteous idea of privacy, becomes their common goal. funny how some of the posters on this thread – entreating us to more and more secrecy using thje weasel excuse of privacy – seem to have common cause with china, cuba and north korea. interesting bedfellows.

    moreover the example of fred goodwin shows how the cheap excuse of privacy carries no weight. this man carried on an affair whilst presiding over one of the biggest losses in corporate history. and we have no right to know anything about his antics. or the footballer who uses his reputation to make money, whilst in fact being a cheat and a liar. essentially defrauding the public. thats privacy? tosh and nonsense.

    which leads us onto the idea of who decides, what is private and what is not. the judges? the same unnaccountable unelected judges who are trying to make the law instead of interpreting it. the same judges who seem to think they are above the law. the privacy sychophants have more faith in these judges than a lot of the rest of us do.

  • You sir are pure and simply a self publicist, an inferior model of Lembit Opik.

  • Nick Clegg Today:

    Asked under what circumstances “parliamentarians should be above the rule of law” in the Commons on Tuesday, party leader Nick Clegg told MPs: “I don’t think anyone should be above the rule of law, if we don’t like the law in this place then we should act as legislators to change the law, not flout it.”

    It’s been a while since I have been so firmly on the same side as Clegg. The arrogance of thinking that the law is something to be ignored because of privilege reminds me of the arrogance that led to the expenses issues. You are not above those you were elected to serve Mr Hemming, nor are you above the laws those of us mere mortals have to follow.

  • Andrew Shuttlewood 24th May '11 - 2:36pm

    I think this was the right thing to do, for a couple of reasons

    1) It was already known – the judiciary maintaining injunctions while the information is widely known is ludicrous and makes it look farcical.

    2) It was alleged to be blackmail, yet seemingly no criminal case has been forthcoming – one would imagine that this would have happened PDQ, yet nothing has appeared.

    3) The ECHR supports both expression and privacy – but obviously they can be in conflict. The French have strong and well-developed privacy laws which would not be appropriate or welcome here – we err more to the side of expression in general.

  • I completely agree with this article. This is the crucial point: “Contempt of court involves potentially a two year jail sentence. I think it is wrong for anyone to be prosecuted for gossiping about trivia on twitter.”

    It has nothing to do with whether the info is in the public interest or not, or what his kids feel, the one and only relevant point is that in the light of modern technology such privacy laws are unworkable without recourse to overly authoritative and disproportionate prosecutions of ordinary folk (the kind of thing we associate with the worst of New Labour); this would be a terrible thing and all liberals ought to agree. The only reasonable response is to try to abolish a privacy law that is completely unworkable – what other resolution could you possibly want? John Hemmings actions, though they may seem minor, nudged things in this direction.

  • @Alex P
    You would have a point if indeed Hemming had any evidence that the Courts were planning to prosecute the twiiter users. If you read the judgements (search BAILII online) they are quite enlightening. CLearly there was already a suspicion, accepted byt he Judge, that information was being passed by the Newspaper to others to attempt to curcumvent the injunction. There was not an argument made for a Public Interest disclosure, they relied on the information being in the public domain.

    Hemming needs to clarify whether he contacted the claiments legal team to identify the reasoning behind their data requests or whether he simply went off half cocked. Also he has done nothing to prevent a single prosecution. Anyone who broke the injunction prior to his abuse of privilege is as liable to prosecution now as they were then.

  • Steve Way

    ” the one and only relevant point is that in the light of modern technology such privacy laws are unworkable without recourse to overly authoritative and disproportionate prosecutions of ordinary folk”

    Maybe, maybe not. That is a matter for Parliament to decide through legislative change. John Hemming wants to make a moot, using his parliamentary privilege as a cover. Its disgraceful behaviour.

  • Dear David Cohen,

    Again you miss the missed the point, even Hemming deserves privacy. It is a pity he or you won’t or can’t answer the questions I posed and many on this forum have asked.

    As a man so aversed in adultary Hemming may be suitable to pass judgement bit in relation to legal judgment I trust the judiciary.

  • Again you miss the missed the point, even Hemming deserves privacy. It is a pity he or you won’t or can’t answer the questions I posed and many on this forum have asked.

    As a man so aversed in adultary Hemming may be suitable to pass judgement but in relation to legal judgment I trust the judiciary.

  • Dear David Cohen,

    I am commenting on a matter of public record as this matter is directly associated with a very public of legal procedure. It is not in any form a defamation of character and if Mr Hemming considers it to be I am more than willing to defend this action in court in Scotland. As for his financial affairs they have and are subject to on-going scrutiny which I fear for him is now going to be subject to an even more rigorous scrutiny, for right or for wrong he has made very powerful enemies.

  • @FA
    I think you meant to quote Alex P not me..

  • John – I’ll repeat my question posted on your blog which you didn’t answer. Did you have access to all the information which was available to the Judge when you decided on your course of action?

    That is an interesting comment- what about hte judge’s dirty little secret? viz bench memoranda.

    This is a document prepared for the judge by a judicial assistant/case lawyer summarising the facts and giving an opinion on the case. It is a prepared judgement.

    Under Strasbourg jurisprudence which the UK judiciary are supposed to follow, when asked the judge should disclose it – a party to a case has a right to see it and comment upon it.

    So yes a good question – has John Hemming MP seen the bench memorandum which would have been prepared for the case?

    Just as interesting – did the barristers who are under a professional duty to their clients ask for a copy?

    A litigant who could reveal the extensive use of such documents is under a gagging order served up by a judge without warning. keeps it all under wraps.

    Maybe John Hemming MP should ask a PQ such as – when did Parliament authorise the judiciary to make use of bench memoranda in civil and family proceedings? – not in the CPR/FPR rules but lawyers please point me to it if the understanding is incorrect.

  • Sid Cumberland 24th May '11 - 6:29pm

    I fear some people are in danger of missing the point here. This case was no longer about trivial gossip about Shagster Giggs. It had got to the point where Twitter were being asked to identify people who had twittered about this gossip, SO THAT THEY COULD BE SENT TO PRISON – WITHOUT ANYONE BEING ABLE TO SAY WHY. Sorry about the shouting – just trying to make sure that people can hear!

  • “SO THAT THEY COULD BE SENT TO PRISON – WITHOUT ANYONE BEING ABLE TO SAY WHY. Sorry about the shouting – just trying to make sure that people can hear!”

    But its not the case. If contempt proceedings were brought the people involved would still be entitled to a proper hearing at which they would be able to see and challenge the evidence brought against them. There would be grounds for reporting restrictions on such proceedings but you could certainly report that person X had been imprisoned for breaching a court injunction in the case of CTB v whoever. After all there have been no restrictions on reporting the several attempts to overturn this injunction or stopping Imogen Thomas having her photograph taken outside the Courts and I think the reasons for Judgements have been given publically.

    As an example of where a trial was reported without breaching the anonymity of the victims see this:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7378345.stm

  • @Sid Cumberland
    Absolute rubbish. Three reasons, firstly if you read the earlier judgements you will see that there was a concern that journalists were leaking information in order to get injunctions lifted.

    Secondly, you have no proof that invididuals just gossiping were to be charged with contempt. And Hemmings action has not altered anyones legal position regarding breaking the injunction at all.

    Thirdly, this was not a so called super injuinction, therefore even if the points above were wrong then we would absolutely have known the reason they were charged…

    Hemming has yet to respond to tell us whether he bothered to enquire as to why the legal team were seeking this information, or even it appers to me bothered tor ead the judgements. If so he would have seen previous information had been asked for regarding the leaking of information by journalists.

    The Sun never tried to argue public interest. They wanted to get the injunction lifted on the grounds that it was no longer effective. Therefore it is an entirely legitimate concern that there may have been those attempting to further this cause by leaking details via all means possible.

  • I agree with Nick, sorry flashbacks, i mean Steve. If i was you steve, i’d bandage your head up now, it must be sore; you can tend to the damaged wall in the morning!

  • John Richardson 24th May '11 - 8:43pm

    Free speech extremists ?? LOL. […irrelevant quote cut…]
    Stop always trying to find a middle ground, its predictable and boring.

    Extremist is apt. You’re defending one freedom at the total expense of another. Put another way you’re advocating oppression of one group so that another can profit. You might find it boring that fundamental rights interact in complex ways, but, still, the fact remains. There is no overriding imperative that demands unbridled free speech. Free speech is acceptably curtailed, for example, to protect people from the prejudices of others, to protect reputations from untruths, and to protect children from material they may not understand. A proper rebalancing of the right to privacy vis freedom of speech is not the threat to life, the universe and everything some seem to think it is.

  • According to the BBC website Hemming had not even seen the injunction. See extract below. If true, I think even most of those defending him on here would expect at least that small semblence of professionalism..

    “Mr Hemming has argued it was that move which prompted him to take action on Monday.

    He told MPs he had a “long term concern about secrecy in court processes”, adding he was concerned that legal action had been “kicked off against users of Twitter”: “Someone should not be able to hide behind anonymity to take action against others.”

    But he admitted he had not seen the injunction in the Giggs case – Conservative MP Adam Afriyie asked him: “Why he thinks he is the judge and jury on whether or not certain people under court order should be named in this place?”

  • If only there were more Lib Dem MP’s like John. Heck, I wish there were more MP’s like John.

    Well done!

  • Kevin Colwill 25th May '11 - 10:56am

    Let’s put public interest to one side. Most would agree that if Giggs was a moral campaigning, Mary Whitehouse type figure it would be legitimate to unmask him as a hypocrite.

    I’d make a different point. There must be a presumed right for an individual to tell the story of their life. It might be legitimate for injunctions to be used prevent third parties from spreading gossip but not to gag one party in an affair or relationship.

    To use Giggs’s right to a private family life to prevent Imogen Thomas’s right to tell her story is to value him and his family above her. Assuming she’s wanting to tell the truth the courts should let her.

  • @Kevin Colwill
    Except of course she has stated repeatedly that she does not wish to tell her story and that the Sun are doing so without her involvement. She cannot have it both ways.

    There also needs to be some level of privacy that individuals (who are not breaking the law) should be able to expect unless informed otherwise. I would suggest the bedroom is entirely such a case. We already accept that as a sound basis, when for example we have to inform people that their telephone conversation is being recorded.

    Take my professional position. I am a director of a company employing a few dozen people. If one of them asks to have a chat in confidence, it will be just that. If they start to cross a line and I no longer feel I will be able to keep that confidence then I would tell them and give them chance to stop the conversation. Sometimes people don’t specify it is confidential, for example I have had employees talk to me about their relationships, health, debt issues and a whole range of personal problems. I believe they are right to expect my discretion. Society accepts that some things are between two individuals and should stay that way.

    Keep on this path and pretty soon we will end up having pre-ciotal as well as pre-nuptial agreements !

  • “To use Giggs’s right to a private family life to prevent Imogen Thomas’s right to tell her story is to value him and his family above her. Assuming she’s wanting to tell the truth the courts should let her.”

    But as things stand we don’t know that one way or the other. Any substantive trial is still to take place, in that situation then it seems reasonable to put a “hold” on any publicity by either party. If that causes a loss to Imogen Thomas (ie the value of her story is reduced then she can be compensated in damages, the potential loss to Ryan Giggs privacy is much harder to compensate for (and to some extent you can’t)

  • About two months ago I dealt with Vicky Haigh who was being prosecuted for contempt of court in a hearing with reporting restrictions.

    If terrorist suspects were treated like people who have fallen into the power of the family courts, the airwaves and blogosphere would be full of civil libertarians doing their nut about the injustice and danger of it all.

    But when social services start silencing people, what happens to this fine concern for civil liberties?

    You could start the Gestapo or the KGB tomorrow in this country, as long as you called it Committee of State Social Care.

  • Christopher Garghan 26th May '11 - 9:15am

    I wholeheartedly support John Hemming, these injunctions are the polar opposite of what the Liberal Democrats should be supporting and I find it bleak that so few in the party are prepared to stand by him, especially his parliamentary colleagues.

    I voted and supported the Liberal Democrats for their commitment to civil liberties. If the party cannot be trusted to defend core principles like freedom of speech and the deconstruction of secret justice then we deserve to be wiped out in the next general election.

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