UK Continues Issuing Tons Of Super Injunctions To Keep Famous People From Being Embarrassed

from the really-now? dept

We've discussed a few times now the bizarre anti-free speech trend in the UK -- of courts handing down injunctions completely barring anyone from naming individuals accused of various things (whether or not those things are true is not clear). Apparently, there have been a whole series of such injunctions lately, mainly involving famous people who don't want the world to know stuff about them:
Nearly 30 footballers, actors and television presenters have won injunctions in recent weeks alone, preventing the press from publishing details of their sexual indiscretions.
That story mentions how an MP had to be censored on the BBC, not for naming one of those individuals, but by suggesting a word that rhymed with the last name of one of those individuals.

But, of course, this is the internet. You can't keep people silent. As TorrentFreak points out, if you do a search, say, on Twitter of the woman one such football player was accused of having an affair with, Imogen Thomas (her name is public, it's the guy's name who's verboten) you can pretty quickly find lots of people claiming they know the name of the football player.

The same sort of thing seems to be happening for a number of the other folks associated with these super injunctions. I've seen some claims that say these UK injunctions are "worldwide" injunctions, but I can't see how UK law can be applied outside of the UK -- especially on speech issues. Last year, of course, the US passed the SPEECH Act, which makes it clear that US courts shouldn't enforce defamation rulings from foreign courts that are in conflict with the First Amendment, but I do wonder if that also can be stretched to cover these kinds of free speech denying super injunctions.

In the meantime, it's a pretty sad statement on the UK, where they seem to prioritize protecting famous people from having to be embarrassed over free speech concerns.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Steve, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:09am

    Double edged sword

    The press could teach them a simple lesson, fame is a double edged sword. If you want people to talk about all the good you do in order to build up your "brand" you have to deal with all of the negative publicity as well. The press could simply refuse to report anything about these individuals. Their "brands" will suffer and, they'll loose endorsements due to their anonymity.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:27am

    The Super Injunctions still allow for disclosure if a person speaks with their MP and that MP brings it up on the floor of Parliament. Parliamentary privilege prevents the MP from facing court proceedings for revealing the injunctions existence.

    There actually exists a Hyper Injunction (I kid you not) which forbids even speaking about the issue with your own MP.

     

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      Duke (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:48am

      Re:

      Hyper injunctions don't actually exist. The term was apparently made up by the MP in question (who seems to have campaigned on attacking judges over the privacy of family courts). What really happened was that the individual had (on the advice of his lawyer) entered into an unenforceable agreement not to talk to that specific MP (the anti-privacy one), because he was known for screwing up these sorts of cases. Obviously he breached this agreement, and obviously nothing happened.

      Hyper-injunctions have only taken off because they make good headlines - they don't appear to exist.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re:

        More fool me then. Thanks.

         

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        Richard (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:02am

        Re: Re:

        Hyper-injunctions have only taken off because they make good headlines - they don't appear to exist.

        I thought that the whole point of hyper injunctions was that you didn't know they existed. So if they do exist - then you don't know about them - and any injunction that you DO know about - is by definition NOT a hyper injunction!!

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 11:53am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I like a good logic puzzle as much as anyone, but let's not get silly here. As I read this, the definition of "hyperinjunction" is not an injunction one doesn't know about, it's an injunction that forbids one to discuss something with one's MP (and maybe anyone else). By that definition the existence of a hyperinjunction can be known, even by people who don't know the secret, and might even have to be generally known in order to be of any use.

          An injunction that ceased to have force when known would be perhaps the most useless legal entity ever invented.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:29am

    Gah. Sometimes I just want to buy a tropical island somewhere and declare myself an independent nation so I can tell all these officious buffoons to go pound sand.

     

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    Duke (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:38am

    Political, not Legal problems...

    Ah, more political grandstanding from the government in their crusade on our judges. They've been at this for the last six months; a way of making the (pathetically weak) government look stronger in the eyes of the people.

    As for the matter; injunctions are granted all over the place, all the time - in the case of privacy, they are usually short-term stops (pre-trial) to prevent the spread of information when there's a very good case that that it will be found illegal to spread the information. The point is not to prevent the spread of the information (which has always been futile, even pre-Internet), the point is to limit the "damage" done by the information by keeping it from the major channels.

    The UK (and Europe) has always had a low interest in freedom of speech (a very US-centric concept), there are all sorts of way to limit it (privacy laws, defamation, contempt of court, copyright) and they exist because our society prefers it this way (apparently).

    In terms of our politicians whining that judges are making up privacy laws - this is complete rubbish. Parliament passed a privacy law 13 years ago; it is called the Human Rights Act 1998. This caused a huge problem for UK judges, who have had to try to bend existing laws to cover the right to privacy added - and they have seriously struggled over this (just look at some of the judgments in the big cases; Douglas v Hello, Campbell v MGN etc.).

    Parliament has had 13 years to step in and pass their own privacy law and have consistently failed to do so, because they really didn't care (and I imagine politicians quite like the availability of super-injunctions), the only reason they care now is that they can use the general public's lack of knowledge on this area to score some points against the HRA and judges.

    The problem with injunctions and super-injunctions (which are very rare) in the UK is not their existence; they are quite useful tools - the problem is the money required to get them. They are not available to "normal" people, only the super-rich. But this is a flaw in our (and most) legal systems; lawyers cost far too much money. Creating more laws probably isn't the best way of fixing this.

     

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    AMusingFool (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:41am

    And I was just reading about this

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13190424

    earlier this morning. Apparently, being a journalist isn't enough to keep someone from seeking one of these injunctions, either.

     

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    Andy (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:42am

    A timely news item

    I read this article on the BBC news site just a little earlier today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13190424

    The twist here is that the person in question, Andrew Marr, is a senior journalist (I'm not sure if he still is, but he used to be the BBC's own Political Editor) and here he was using one of these super injunctions to maintain his own privacy.

    The article refers to comments by Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine and a "team captain" on the very popular BBC satirical news quiz show, Have I Got News For You. Hislop referred to Marr's use of a super injunction as "a touch hypocritical" using classic British understatement to describe the situation.

     

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    Pixelation, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    Fewer acronyms please

    Um, call me an ignorant American but what is an MP? Here in the US it stands for Military Police. Same?

     

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      Duke (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:54am

      Re: Fewer acronyms please

      Member of Parliament; usually applies to the elected members of our House of Commons - the "lower" (but more powerful) chamber of our Parliament.

       

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      drewmerc (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 7:58am

      Re: Fewer acronyms please

      member of Parliament (like a us Senator)

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:22am

        Re: Re: Fewer acronyms please

        no, like a U.S. Representative/Member of Congress (or Congressman/Congresswoman)/Member of the House of Representatives.

        The U.S. Senate is more like the U.K. House of Lords, and the House of Commons (where M.P.s are) is like the House of Representatives.

         

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    IanVisits, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:02am

    While there are legitimate reasons for the protection of free speech, do we really want to live in a society where something you do in the privacy of your own home can be splashed all over the press the next week?

    Remember that most of the people that the tabloids target are not famous because they sell their stories to the magazines every week, but because the tabloids themselves have declared that person to be famous.

    A lot of "mr averages" have ended up being hounded by the tabloids simply because they were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place (or the right place, from the tabloid's perspective).

    For all the fuss about a few super-injunctions, we still have a UK where the tabloid press will publish almost anything - and rarely accurately - about anyone, and there is very little that can be done to demand corrections or even just stop them printing lies in the first place.

    A couple of sentences in the 5th page printed a year or two later after lengthy and expensive libel battles will never undo the damage from the lies printed on the front page of a tabloid paper.

    Then again, at least in the UK we can flash a nipple on the TV screen without half the country fainting in shock.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Dunno what's more sad... the UK's government, the so called 'footballers' and the fact that their personal lives are so horrid that they resort to these sex affairs, or us for caring.

     

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      DH's Love Child (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:23am

      Re:

      I think the correct answer is 'all of the above'

       

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      Simon Chamberlain (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:30am

      Re:

      "so-called footballers"? The man's a legend. Assuming it's who it's alleged to be.

      (I do like the Twitter comments "will she be flying Ryanair?" - seems like a clever and not-so-subtle way of naming the person involved.)

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:30am

    Ironically, I wouldn't have cared if it wasn't for these superinjunctions, but saying "Celebrity X has been involved in an affair, but you're not allowed to know who they are" is like a red rag to a bull, and makes curious people turn to Google.

    Can you say Streisand Effect?!

     

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    HM, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:30am

    I don't want to know who is sleeping with Imogen Thomas, cause then ill just know who to be jealous of.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:32am

    For anyone who wants to know the identity of these people, the #superinjunction hashtag on twitter reveals all.

    Yes, it's that simple. Sigh.

     

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    taoareyou, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Even after reading the post and the comments, I still don't care enough to go looking on Google or Twitter to find out who it is because frankly, I still won't know them if I had a name.

    Let them spend their money on injunctions that don't work trying to hide their actions from a world that, for the most part, doesn't care.

     

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    Ben Robinson, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    Worldwide

    As far as i understand it the "Worldwide" aspect only applies to British citizens. It is to cover a UK citizen nipping over to Ireland, blabbing all to some Irish TV station, then nipping back to the UK. They have still broken the injunction even though they were not in the UK when they did it.

     

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      Rikuo (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 11:15am

      Re: Worldwide

      I doubt that would actually work. A super injunction passed in Britain would only have legal effect while in Britain.
      The Irish courts wouldn't entertain the idea of prosecuting someone for breaking a completely British law while on Irish soil.
      Although, I have read about this in the Irish newspapers here (Irish Independent, I think it was) and they didn't name the footballers either (although I can't say with absolute certainty whether or not the footballers got a similar injunction from the Irish courts)

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 12:28pm

      Re: Worldwide

      But that doesn't make any sense in the internet age. I'm in the UK. This site is in America. If I posted the info on here, what could they do about it? How would they know that the info came from a UK poster?

      Similarly, Twitter is hosted in America.

       

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    btr1701 (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:05am

    Speech

    > I do wonder if that also can be stretched to
    > cover these kinds of free speech denying
    > super injunctions.

    There's no need to try and stretch the SPEECH Act to cover this sort of thing. You were right the first time when you said the UK courts have no power to bind anyone outside of the UK.

    An American newspaper or media company is under no obligation to abide by injunctions from foreign courts on speech which is not only perfectly legal in America, but specifically protected by the Constitution.

     

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    Christopher (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 10:31am

    Personally, I am torn...... part of me wants to say that these people are being persecuted for things that other people who were less famous than them would not have posted in papers or are being 'convicted before judgment' using the press.

    Another part of me wants to say that if they are two-faced bastards, I want to know about it.

    I lean more towards the first point of view 99% of the time however, where I believe that the public does NOT have the right to know of every criminal investigation or arrest until AFTER there is a conviction in order to protect the right of people to have a fair trial.

     

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      btr1701 (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 11:35am

      Re:

      > I believe that the public does NOT have the
      > right to know of every criminal investigation
      > or arrest until AFTER there is a conviction

      It's not a question of the public's right to know. It's a question of people's right to speak.

      One public figure's desire for privacy doesn't supersede the free speech rights of millions of their fellow citizens.

       

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        Duke (profile), Apr 26th, 2011 @ 12:03pm

        Re: Re:

        One public figure's desire for privacy doesn't supersede the free speech rights of millions of their fellow citizens.

        Actually, in large chunks of Europe, that is precisely the case - at least with freedom of expression.

        Under the ECHR, freedom of expression can be restricted to protect someone's right to private life. On the other hand, someone's right to private life can be restricted to protect another's freedom of expression. It's all a big balancing act.

        Of course, this usually involves making someone pay up damages after a trial - the idea behind injunctions seems to be to lessen the potential damage done between the issue coming up and the end of the trial.

         

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    Arthur Pendragon, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 11:43am

    Divine Right!

    Didn't you know? Divine Right has been passed from Queen to Celebrities.

    Their Divine Right grants them privledges not granted to mundane serfs.

    God Save the Celebrities!

     

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    MetalSamurai, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 4:43pm

    No such thing as UK law

    Despite the ridiculous claims of this judge issuing a "worldwide injunction" it's only valid in England and Wales. There is no such thing as UK law; Scotland has a completely separate legal system.

    Any of the Scottish papers could publish with impunity, but haven't because they have some editions printed and distributed in England.

     

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      Andrew Foster (profile), Apr 28th, 2011 @ 11:54am

      Re: No such thing as UK law

      Heh. I take it you're not from the UK? That's definitely wrong, mate, sorry!

      I'm a Scottish law student; it was a separate legal system until 1707, when we joined with England. The respective common-laws were kept separate (meaning "the laws that come out of the courts", roughly), so you might be right that this particular judgement only applies in England and Wales - but there is definitely such a thing as UK law.

      The UK parliament can pass law for the whole UK on a specific set of matters, namely the ones that aren't assigned to the devolved (e.g. Scottish) legislatures - things like defence and IP law, as it happens. The UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is UK law.

      Truth be told, Parliament legally has impunity to make UK-wide law in any area, including those supposedly passed down to the Scottish Parliament etc... but it would be political suicide to do it without permission, for obvious reasons.

       

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    abc gum, Apr 26th, 2011 @ 6:00pm

    I doubt a super duper hyper injunction would do anything to curtail the embarrassment of those who seek it.

     

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    Andrew Foster (profile), Apr 28th, 2011 @ 12:00pm

    Thirty "in recent weeks" is probably nonsense

    Another quick point - the BBC report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13190424) refers to about thirty injunctions currently in force, so it seems pretty likely that the Daily Telegraph's quote about thirty being granted "in recent weeks alone" is an after-the-fact inflation of the figures, whether it's deliberate or careless.

    It's also relatively obvious that (as the BBC admits), by their nature, it's near enough impossible to say how many super-injunctions are being granted, so any claims involving hard figures should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

     

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