Saturday, 12 March 2011

Social media speculation puts pressure on judges to lift Sir Fred Goodwin's super-injunction

Judges are facing growing pressure to lift the super-injunction obtained by Sir Fred Goodwin amid speculation on the internet about the nature of the information he is trying to protect, claims the Daily Telegraph today.

The existence of the injunction was revealed under parliamentary priviledge on Thursday by John Hemming, the back-bench Liberal Democrat MP, during a business debate in the House of Commons.

The Telegraph says: "The terms of the injunction are so strict that the Telegraph is prevented from disclosing any details, but social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook were rife with speculation about why the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive had taken out the injunction."

Padraig Reidy, of Index on Censorship, tells the Telegraph: “The laws on injunctions and super-injunctions are stuck in the past and really do not take into account the speed and the way people communicate on the internet today.

“It is nigh on impossible once something has broken on social networking sites to put the cat back in the bag. On the internet there is a real sense of a right to information.”

Hemming told Parliament that the super-injunction even prevented Sir Fred from being identified as a banker and asked: “Will the Government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there’s one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?”

The Telegraph says in a leader comment today: "Sir Fred “the Shred” Goodwin, who presided over the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, retired on an annual pension of £342,000 and also received a lump sum of almost £3 million. We have no idea whether he used any of this cash for legal fees to obtain a secret super-injunction banning the publication of information about him. But if it did cost him a lot of money, he must be regretting it. For, although the court granted Sir Fred’s wish, this week a Liberal Democrat MP revealed in Parliament one of the things the injunction was supposed to conceal: the very fact of its existence.

"Given their extreme nature and the public controversy that they engender, super-injunctions do not seem to be particularly hard to obtain. Over the past few years, British courts have been strangely eager to grant these gagging orders, whose basis lies in human rights legislation inspired by Europe. It is hard to avoid the view that judges are forging a privacy law on the hoof.

"Fortunately, there is one thing that trumps the “human right” to silence a free press, and that is the legal privilege of MPs to say anything they like in Parliament, which dates back to the Civil War. Secret super-injunctions are, in theory, extremely powerful instruments – but, thanks to that ancient freedom, this particular one lies in shreds."

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