The super-injunction story is moving so fast now it’s hard to keep up. The premiership footballer* who is suing Twitter has been ‘outed’ by Twitter users so many times that there can be very few remotely interested people who don’t now know who he is. His name has been mockingly chanted at football matches, and has even been exposed in a Scottish Sunday newspaper, which believes it is not affected by the injunction as the legal system is different north of the border. For one reason or another we already now know those involved in so many more of these supposedly ‘secret’ cases – Jeremy Clarkson, Sir Fred Goodwin, John Terry, Andrew Marr, and so on.
UPDATE: *Now named in the House of Commons as Ryan Giggs, to no-one’s surprise.
The law certainly now looks an ass, but the problem is that this legal tussle is being driven by two sets of people, both with their own vested interests. On the one hand, some newspaper editors would doubtless like to be able to write what they like about whoever they like, at any time, with no redress. That would certainly drive newspaper sales, but clearly cannot be acceptable for anyone who believes in any sort of notion of privacy of the individual. On the other side, lawyers can make large sums persuading wealthy clients to take costly legal action – a couple of particular firms have made the running here, and their interests clearly aren’t aligned with those of the public as a whole.
The only serious attempt to charter a course between these two has come from the Neuberger Committee, whose long-awaited report was published last week. It was widely derided as being lawyer-dominated (true), and could lead to a clampdown on MP’s and peers who name the subjects of super-injunctions under the cloak of parliamentary privilege.
However, the committee also suggested the press should be allowed to be represented at – though not report on – the hearings which decide whether or not injunctions can be granted. This suggestion was also widely derided – but I wonder if it could have a much greater effect than the critics suggest. Wouldn’t anyone think at least twice before applying for an injunction, if it meant they or their legal representatives had to go into great detail, under oath, about their misdemeanours in front of representatives from the very tabloids who wish to pursue them? Maybe they might consider themselves better off allowing the press to take the risk to ‘publish and be damned’, and sue if necessary. Certainly ‘that’ footballer would have been the subject of far less opprobrium if he had allowed his story to be just been another Sunday morning tabloid sex scandal, which would have faded in most people’s memories by now.