Opinion: The liberal case for super-injunctions, and protecting the human right of privacy

Today, a certain Mr Andrew Marr has confirmed the oldest rumour in the book – that he obtained a super injunction several years ago, to protect his family against allegations that he had an affair.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what he does in the bedroom, providing that it doesn’t impact on his professional life and his ability to be politically neutral (ho, ho, ho!).

I’m going to come out with it straight: I’m a Liberal, and I fully support both the superinjunction, and Andrew Marr’s application for one in 2008.

I feel that the press has gone too far, on many occasions – printing private stories about celebrities (and anyone else they find vaguely interesting) which have a real and meaningful impact on their lives. It is not reasonable to expect that someone put in the public eye for their sporting achievements, for instance, be content with being scrutinised on their personal relationships – unless it affects their game.

It is not reasonable to hound a child and force their family out of town based on their gender identity.

Take a look at that link. A 12 year old girl, had to run from journalists with her head in her hands, being chased down her road. The picture used is just a model, but only because an injunction prevented them from showing the child’s face. The family have since had to move town, change names – and have been granted an injunction against many newspapers and freelance photographers.

It is NOT in the public interest to ruin a child’s life because they are transgendered – but this is precisely what happened here.

At this point, for neutrality’s sake, I would like to point out my support of the coverage of Chris Huhne’s affair. When someone in an influential position makes a big song and dance publicly about family values, and then fails to practise what they preach, the hypocrisy should be covered. Clearly, his private life is affecting his public duty.

The superinjunction exists to protect people’s right to a private life. This is a fundamental human right laid down in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – and is not voided by career choice, slow news days, ability to kick/throw/eat a football, mental health issues, nosey readers, or any other reason.

It is right that if someone is being targeted by the press for something which is not in the national interest, and would be damaging to allow into the public eye, they should seek protection in the form of a superinjunction.

ANYONE, regardless of wealth or status, should be able to protect themselves from an over-powerful and invasive press. A person’s right to a private life is more important than a person’s desire to read about it in the media.

Liberals should be rallying behind this protective measure – and calling for Mr Cameron’s new bill to strengthen protections, not mitigate them.

Jack Holroyd is Empowerment officer for the Brent Parks Branch of the party and a campaigns manager in the third sector. He tweets at @jackyboy86.

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26 Comments

  • I cannot, in good conscience, support anything that makes it a crime to speak to your duly elected representatives.

    What’s wrong with a regular injunction, after all? Super- and hyper-injunctions are going the way of libel laws: used by the wealthy as a way to stifle the free expression of information while the regular citizen can barely get any recourse for much more serious breaches of privacy.

  • Mark Inskip 26th Apr '11 - 8:43pm

    Some rather mixed up and confused arguments from Jacky Boy.

    He has no problem with the way the press covered Chris Huhne’s affair, supposed justified by Chris making a big song and dance publicly about family values? Chris has made a big song and dance about a number of topics, most recently on the No2AV campaign lies but an ardent campaigner for traditional family values? I must have missed that one?

    However he has no problem with Andrew Marr’s super-injunction supposedly to protect his private life, though also handily protecting his £600,000 a year journalistic job. And allowing him to stay in a position where he can probe politicians in public, whether Chris Huhne or Gordon Brown, about their private lives.

    And finally the example he gives to justify a ‘super-injunction’ does not even involve a ‘super-injunction’!

  • Super injunctions are only available to the rich. All the little people have their reputations trashed in the local press every day without any recourse, and your coalition is even going to take Legal Aid away from them.

    Super injunctions are a boon to multi-nationals which can use them to keep all of their nefarious activities under wraps.

    And while you’re at it have a look at Chris Huhne’s general election campaign leaflet!

  • Andrew Suffield 26th Apr '11 - 9:15pm

    He has no problem with the way the press covered Chris Huhne’s affair, supposed justified by Chris making a big song and dance publicly about family values? Chris has made a big song and dance about a number of topics, most recently on the No2AV campaign lies but an ardent campaigner for traditional family values? I must have missed that one?

    It was a fantasy of the opposition. What actually happened was that in some of his campaign mailings, his wife appeared in the photos (shock! man seen in public with own wife). Somehow this got spun into absurd claims that failing to keep your wife out of public sight is the same thing as campaigning on “family values”. Pretty silly really.

  • Jack Holroyde 26th Apr '11 - 9:19pm

    Mark (and Martin),
    Chris did make statements he probably regrets now – although as part of a wider biography for his constituents.
    My feeling is that having been told that their MP, amongst other things ”took becoming a father so seriously I gave up smoking” (*vomit*) in an election correspondence during the 2010 election – during his affair.
    My problem is not what he does in bed, mind – I would love to see the rigid societal frameworks around relationships loosened, so that polyamoury etc are not viewed as such earth-shattering concepts.

    Then, in response to Mark’s idea that Marr was protecting his job – one has to ask whether having an extramartial affair is an act of misconduct. Of course it isn’t – the only thing that would endanger his position would be the manic baying of the rabid press, intent on stamping thin definitions of morality on us all – even those who have not signed up to such narrow mindsets.

    I mentioned a case involving an injunction because if I were to mention a case involving a super-injunction, LDV might have got into serious trouble.
    The point stands that a child’s life was ruined by the gutter press in return for ratings, and the level of restriction placed on the press in this case has no relevance.
    This is about principle – ‘Is it right to restrict the press over private matters?’.

    Will, I did note that I would like to see these become more freely available to those without bottomless bank accounts. I would not want to see citizens throwing gagging orders at one another, but I strongly believe citizens MUST be protected from the press in relevant cases.

  • Jack Holroyde 26th Apr '11 - 9:28pm

    I must say, in addition, that the irony of liberals screaming against Murdoch splashing the press with the contents of celebrities lives – and then getting hot headed about the legal framework for people to protect themselves from the press, is delicious.

  • Jack Holroyde 26th Apr '11 - 10:00pm

    For clarity, I’m saying that if Marr was a advocate of an open, free press regardless of, well, anything, then i’d have no problem being thrown to the wolves.
    In my opinion, Chris invoked a (to me) vomit-inducing, conservative old fashioned image as a family man (compared to Nick ‘love the kids, but still smoke and let Miriam wear the trousers’ Clegg) – and as such a breach of that should be reported to his constituents, at least.

    Regardless of examples, my overriding point stands – the press holds too much power to ruin people’s lives and frequently disregards their fundamental rights.

  • @MatGB

    Actually I am opposed to super injunctions for everybody, I was simply pointing out that they are only available to the rich. I think it’s outrageous that a party that promotes itself as Liberal is very happy to gag the press. Worthy of state communism don’t you think? I regard the complete freedom of the press as a cornerstone of a free society. I gather that all the media village and Westminster knew about the Marr injunction. The masses, however, were kept in ignorance. So, a society in which there are two tiers of gossip. You want that? Not good for democracy these super injunctions!

  • Following on from Rob, I think that there is a case for automatic, time-limited, super injunctions. Would it have been so bad had Chris Huhne – and even more importantly his wife and kids – had a month to think things through, and decide the best thing to do? Ditto David Mellor, Robin Cook – this is a not a party political point. Or John Major, had Edwina Currie decided to go public earlier.

    I think that where kids are involved the rules should be much stricter – to the extent that if Marr had fathered a child, that child could never be named unless they chose to name themselves. That may in turn mean that you cannot name the mother. So be it.

  • Ian Hislop provided the evidence this morning on the Today Programme that Marr did portray himself as an advocate of an open, free press and is therefore a hypocrite.

    As to the character assassination you are making of Chris Huhne, I really don’t understand what is driving you to do that. As Andrew has already highlighted, the press, primarily the Mail and the Telegraph tried to spin the line that he was promoting traditional conservative family values to give weigh to their stories but I don’t think you’ll find an Eastleigh constituent who recognises this caricature.

    If journalists do hold too much power then why defend a journalist who has that power together with the wealth to take out a gagging order to protect himself from the power of his colleagues?

  • Old Codger Chris 26th Apr '11 - 10:45pm

    “I regard the complete freedom of the press as a cornerstone of a free society”.

    Stanley Baldwin (not my favourite Prime Minister) repeated a quotation by his cousin Rudyard Kipling – “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.” That was in 1931 and was aimed at the Daily Mail and Express. Nowadays we also have the Daily Star, The Sun, and the News of the World. And it’s not just power – it’s a fast buck.

    These proprietors are not truly interested in bringing down the rich and powerful – they are, after all, rich and powerful themselves. But they are happy to ruin lives of “little” people. We need a public boycott on the lines of the one which decminated The Sun’s circulation on Merseyside after the Hillsborough tragedy.

  • “What’s wrong with a regular injunction, after all? Super- and hyper-injunctions are going the way of libel laws:”

    You can have cases where the point of a regular injunction is defeated by the fact that it was made and in favour of person X is made public. I don’t think the idea is particularly new thought they may be more common now.

    @Mack
    “Super injunctions are only available to the rich.”
    Simply not true – anyone can apply for an injunction, super or not – as the article above makes clear. Injunctions are BTW a discretionary remedy of the court rather than something a claimant/defendant is entitled to as of right.

    Simply put – if you believe that injunctions (interim or otherwise) are a legitimate remedy for a court to award (and they are equitable remedies so discretionary) then the super-injunction has to be an equally valid tool for the courts to have at their disposal.

    I would also say that permanent injunctions also have a place – albeit that it should be a very rare occurence.

    On seeing an MP – are there any instances where the courts have held someone in contempt for doing that, or where an injunction (super or otherwise) has explicitly said that someone cannot do this. Given the controversy over this issue I am wary of someone saying “this injunction stops me doing X” when actually either it only does so on a very wide reading of the injunction or if the matter went back to court it would be readily agreed that it didn’t impose such a restriction.

  • I’d support the injunction process in practice being open to all, but the problem is that rich people can afford (better) lawyers. It’s partially why libel laws are so messed up; the costs of bringing a libel case are immense.

    I honestly don’t see why “super-injunctions” are needed. Contempt of court never stopped newspapers before, after all. The correct way to deal with the press prying into private lives is to encourage (and maybe even require) better journalistic standards, not an increasingly draconian series of injunctions.

  • Your argument only really holds true for the press and reporting stories. Super-injunctions go much much further, they ban ordinary people from simply talking about such matters. This is a clear infringement on the everyday right to free speech and as such they are completely indefensible.

  • @Alex

    Absolutely right. Super injunctions can be obtained “contra mundam.” When we have a situation in which the populace has been gagged and can’t even evince the fact that they’ve been gagged we are really into Orwellian territory. My great concern about super injunctions is not their misuse by celebrities who want to keep their
    leg- overs quiet, but the criminals and multinational companies who are able to stop people (particularly MPs and journalists) revealing their criminal and anti-social activities. An outrageous assault on freedom of speech.
    @Hywel
    “– anyone can apply for an injunction, super or not – ”

    Agreed. But my experience in the law has taught me that most ordinary people are terrified to go anywhere near courts for fear of even greater publicity and if they are taking on wealthy vested interests their wealth and power frightens them off. When protecting your reputation it helps to be very rich. That’s why the coalition’s cuts to legal aid are a disgrace.

    @Old Codger Chris

    “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.” ”

    I think you’ve got to bear in mind that the two newspaper proprietors were disagreeing fundamentally with Baldwin over Free Trade. Something, which in a free and democratic society that venerates free speech they were perfectly entitled to do. Their crime was, in Baldwin’s eyes, that they disagreed with him. I agree with you that many of the things newspapers print are execrable, but I think we have to accept that because many newspaper campaigns have, over the years, successfully attacked vested interests: think of the Mirror’s campaign against the Krays; and the press’s revelations on the Profumo affair. I wonder if those people’s activities would have been brought to light if super-injunctions had been available.

  • Quite simply, the courts should never be allowed to ban ordinary people from talking about issues of any kind. Printing and otherwise publishing stories is another matter entirely, but super-injunctions are like using an A-bomb to crack a nut.

  • Seem to be, in most cases: “I’m a wealthy celebrity and cheating on my wife. Please grant me a super injunction to protect my family.”

    If I were the wife, I’d want the world to know what a stinking louse had done and how little he cared about how much he hurt me or the kids when he began the affair.

    And if the wife doesn’t know, that makes the courts complicit in his deception.

  • “Trafigura was certainly in the public interest, the injunction only being dropped because it was ignored and reported in parliament,”

    There is a contradiction here. People are saying that it is wrong that super-injunctions stop people speaking to their MP but that it is right that legally priviliged information should be published.

    Trafigura is the poster boy for this issue – however that case was an interim injunction in a case where there was a dispute over whether the information was protected by legal privilege. That sounds to me like a perfectly reasonable case for an interim injunction.

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