Sunday, 3 April 2011

Porter wants commission on privacy and freedom of speech following 'hyperinjunction' revelations

Observer commentator Henry Porter, looking at the increasing number of gagging orders on the press, has called for a commission to investigate the competing interests of privacy and freedom of speech.

Porter says the revelation by the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming of a new breed of "hyperinjunction", which forbids the recipient talking about it to MPs, is one of the most disturbing developments in the contest between legitimate privacy and the need for open justice.

He writes: "In an age when accusations can be made anonymously on the internet, ways have to be found to guarantee privacy and provide protection from malicious allegations, but these oppressive court orders are not the answer. As the Times said, there are at least 30 orders blocking publicity in high-profile cases, as well as a new type of order – the hyperinjunction – which affects parliamentary privilege by preventing discussion between an MP and his constituent."

Porter concludes: "We need a commission to investigate the interests of privacy and freedom of speech and a commitment from the government to act on its findings in a way that preserves so many different virtues of British life. It will be terribly hard but parliament needs to concern itself with more than the day-to-day argument over cuts and this issue is crying out for a creative and intelligent collaboration from all our legislators."

  • The Times said in a leader on Saturday: "It is beyond time that this tide of secrecy was reversed. Even Donald Rumsfeld would be shocked at how the British public are being kept in the dark. As judges grant more super-injunctions to frisky millionaire footballers, high-flying bankers and tycoons that enable these men (and they are mostly men) to shield their affairs from the public’s gaze — for no better reason than that it would embarrass them, or might dent their sponsorship deals were their affairs to come to light — the public not only don’t know who these people are, they don’t even know they don’t know."
  • The Times in a news story estimated: "The rich and famous have won at least 30 “gagging” orders blocking publicity about their private lives from being exposed in the media. . . In a sign that the courts are becoming increasingly sympathetic to celebrities, sportsmen and high-profile businessmen, eight of the orders have been granted in the past three months alone." (The Times is behind a paywall.)

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