UK media and MP John Hemmings defy UK judges on privacy injunctions

[Gillian Bilks, Privacy Law Contributor]

Following the prolific tweeting and publication of the details of a privacy injunction granted to a UK celebrity, footballer Ryan Giggs, by a Scottish newspaper, British MP John Hemmings has added fuel to the fire of the intense controversy surrounding the granting of such injunctions by UK courts.

It appears that the MP, John Hemmings, abused his ‘parliamentary privilege’ to deliberately raise the matter in the UK’s parliament in contravention of the injunction in such a manner that the name of the celebrity, the footballer was able to be published in the proceedings of parliament which in turn can be published by the media.

The MPs argument for so doing is that privacy law in the UK is unsustainable and anything deemed to be ‘private’ by a UK court, if Tweeted, or prolifically published on social media sites, or on the Internet, lose their court protection and can be freely published by British newspapers in contravention of the court’s order.

Referring to the recent tweeting of the footballer’s privacy injunction he had commented (according to the Guardian): “You can’t imprison 75  thousand twitterers for breaking the law”.  Presumably, this menace of a parliamentarian is using the same logic that applies to speeding offences in the UK – that as thousands of UK motorists break speeding laws each day, the law making them offences should be discontinued.

It seems that Mr. Hemmings has an agenda – which is one for the UK media who thrive on controversy and invasion of people’s privacy to support sales in these troubled times for print media. In that regard, the more of a celebrity you are, the more of a prime target you are to get special treatment by the media for your every indiscretions, or presumed ones.

Of course, the response to all this from ‘ironcast’ David Cameron, the UK prime minister who had reneged on his party’s election manifesto that once in power there would be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty,  is that it seems that that the law seems ‘unsustainable’ and needs review. What about burglaries, speeding offences? Will he ‘legalise’ them too as there are certainly many of them taking place each day in the UK which makes them kind of ‘unsustainable’ too?

My feeling is that the media and MPs in its pocket should not be allowed to run roughshod over the integrity of the British legal system.  Laws are made to be obeyed and it is deeply embedded into the structure of the British legal system that it is nothing less than a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, to flout a court order, such as an injunction. If the media get away with it, then where will it all stop – likely when there is a total breakdown of law and order in the UK.

Furthermore, when MPs try to break court orders by abusing parliamentary privilege, if their intention is to flout the injunction, then, by law, they are in contempt of court and lose the protection of their parliamentary privilege. Mr. Hemmings was warned of this by the British Speaker and it is likely that the judges will go for his head on this one.

In the wider scheme of things, it would be an idea for the judges to make privacy injunctions more amenable to all. At the moment, at a cost of some 100,000 pounds, only the rich can afford them. If they became considerably less expensive and were more, or less available to all, then the British public who see them currently as the ruling class’ way of silencing the masses, would be more tolerant of them and embrace their value.

The UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve, has been instructed by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to have a joint committee review the recent controversy surrounding the use of the superinjunctions. He told MPs that his committee would would look to see how the current system was working.

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