Super-injunctions and a historical lesson

Readers of my own blog are probably aware that I have quite an interest in the latest legal phenomenon that’s called the super-injunction. Your Reaper believes that their use is generally incredibly damaging to freedom of speech unless in absolutely exceptional circumstances, and I’ve published a few posts about the subject. Despite claims from some sections of the blogosphere that the public simply are not interested in what is often called salacious gossip, those posts are consistently the most popular ones on the blog. How do they explain that?

Those of you who keep an eye on the newspapers may have seen a story on the front page of today’s Daily Mail, referring to comments made by Gabby Logan. Recently, a worldwide injunction was passed preventing the publication of intimate images of a man who had been having an affair. Twitter has been awash with speculation on the names, and the entirely false rumour has gone around that she has been having an affair with Alan Shearer, and then went to court to obtain an injunction to hide the news. It really is quite disturbing that innocent parties are being smeared in this way whilst the real villains hide behind court rulings.

What concerns me for the purpose of this piece, however, was an interesting question asked in the House of Commons yesterday by Tory MP Matthew Offord. He asked Leader of the House Sir George Young: “There has been much public discussion on the increasing use of super-injunctions and the ability of judges to decide policy instead of elected Parliamentarians. Is the Leader of the House aware of the anomaly this creates if, as has been rumoured, a member of this place seeks a super-injunction to prevent discussion of their activities?”.

Naturally enough, the politicos are all over this one. It was claimed last month that a person who was campaigning for the Yes vote to the AV referendum had obtained a super-injunction banning reporting of certain details about their private life. Whether this and the question are connected, we don’t know. Mind you, this does provoke a number of very interesting points that raise very serious questions about just how much damage the super-injunction could be capable of doing.

Those of you with long memories will remember Back To Basics, that ill-fated initiative started in September 1993 by John Major to re-launch his government. Had the super-injunction been available as a tool for the rich back then, we would never have found out that in July 1993, Tim Yeo had an extramarital affair with a Tory councillor called Julia Stent which resulted in a lovechild born that very month. Yeo would have been able to do an Andrew Marr and get a super-injunction to hush it all up. And of course, since the likes of the Guido Fawkes blog didn’t exist back in 1993, chances are we would probably never find out about it.

We would still not know just what the true reason for Malcolm Sinclair, the 20th Earl of Caithness, resigned from the Major government in January 1994. It turned out it was because he had an affair and his wife of 19 years, Diana Caroline Coke, the Countess of Caithness, had shot herself when she found out about it. ETK was able to hide the fact he’d had an affair with a work colleague, so there’s absolutely no way a judge would have refused to grant a super-injunction in a case where someone had committed suicide following the discovery of their partner’s adultery.

Tory MP Stephen Milligan was found dead in his Chiswick flat in London in February 1994. The reason? He had been strangled by an electrical cord during what was presumed to be a state of autoerotic asphyxiation, self-bondage and cross-dressing. It was also widely reported at the time that he had an orange segment in his mouth at the time he died. There is no way that would emerge in this age of the super-injunction and horrendously restrictive libel laws.

Let’s go back further in time for another example. Imagine if super-injunctions had existed back in the 1960s. John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War would have been able to run to the likes of Mr Justice Eady in 1963 to stop the press from revealing that he had been having an affair with Christine Keeler, supposedly a mistress of an alleged Russian spy. That would have killed the story dead, and Profumo’s career would have continued, along with that of Macmillan’s government.

These are only a few examples from the historical archives, but if you took the first three from the Back To Basics initative, we would have never found out about the truth on what so many of our ruling politicians were up to. Without that information, it could have completely changed the political landscape. The Tories would never have become the laughing stock they were in the late 1990s had all those affairs and strange deaths not been reported in the press.

In that respect, the super-injunction is a tool which has enormous potential to do damage, which is why we should be extremely worried about these rumours that there is an MP out there who now supposedly wields a court ruling preventing us from finding out the truth about him.

NOTE: We’re all very curious about this story, but nobody at the Orphans of Liberty wishes to get into any legal trouble, so kindly behave yourselves in the comments section on this one, please.

3 comments for “Super-injunctions and a historical lesson

  1. May 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Interesting post. I’ll admit that I can’t work out how important this issue is, ironically because super-injunctions hide the evidence.

    One could take a hard line as a simple matter of self-interest. You could say that a right to privacy morphs into a public right to transparency when people freely decide to build their careers on a public persona.

  2. SimonF
    May 9, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Most of these super injunctions appear to be on the seductive argument of protecting children or innocent spouses from embarrassment as innocent parties. Wasn’t one put forward that their children might be bullied at school

    This is all well and good until we realise that this argument could (is?) be used to protect the identity of MPs who have been fiddling expense. Which is why I suspect that Parliament will be moving at a glacial pace on this one, if at all.

    • May 9, 2011 at 11:29 am

      Indeed so. That would be the ETK injunction you’re referring to. He managed to stop the world finding out about his affair with a work colleague by saying he didn’t want his kids to be bullied “in the playground”, as it was reported.

      Hasn’t stopped his name and the name of the woman he had the affair with from getting out on the internet though.

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