One Law For The Rich

One of my fondest fantasies is that in Britain a measure of equality still exists.  Yes there are people who are very rich and others who are very poor.  Yes some people live in a part of the country that allows them to go to a good state school, while others have to accept a place at a school that fails its pupils.  And yes some live near a good hospital while others will die of botched surgery or MRSA because they live near a bad one.

But in Britain we are supposed all to be equal under the law.  It is a principle that goes back in large measure to Magna Carta.  That charter bound King John and his successors to the laws of the land just as everyone else was bound by them.

However with the rise of the super injunction we see another example of a two tier legal system emerging.  In the absence of privacy legislation, which makes clear the rights of each and every citizen to a certain measure of privacy and the circumstances under which that privacy can be violated, the law is being written by the courts.

Unlike standard case law which results in precedents being absorbed into the common law, and which then pass into general use, super injunctions create the law on a case by case basis.  Moreover they create the law only for those who can afford the very expensive services of the best media lawyers.  For everyone else privacy only exists because we are of no interest to the tabloids.

The former teacher Christopher Jefferies, whose tenant Jo Yates was so brutally murdered, had his reputation destroyed by press speculation.  The police played a key part in his exposure and there were no means available to him to prevent the flood of intrusion into his life.  His recourse came after the fact.  He is suing the newspapers who he believes libelled him.  He may get justice.  He may gain a degree of satisfaction.  However I suspect that no amount of money and no apology, however fulsome, will ever truly compensate him for what he went through.

In contrast the rich and famous are now able to gag the press and prevent anyone outside the offices of newspaper editors from knowing that a gag exists.  All the same rumours flourish on the internet.

Some of these may be untrue.  The dirt of celebrity A can stick to celebrity B because of the frenzy of speculation that A’s super injunction creates.  Celebrity B can’t confront the speculation because it exists as a miasma in cyberspace rather than on the pages of a newspaper where it can be challenged.  No one taking a considered stand would want to respond to every silly piece of tittle tattle on the web.

Instead newspapers now point us to other sites such as Wikipedia that have been edited by those who want to expose those who have taken out super injunctions and whose deleted revisions can be seen in the history log of those pages.  Indeed we have no way of knowing whether those would-be Wiki-editors are any better informed than you or I.

A cursory search of the net reveals allegations that Ryan Giggs had an affair with Imogen Thomas, that Ewan McGregor paid for sex with Helen Wood and that Alan Shearer and Gabby Logan had an affair with one another.

There is nothing to substantiate any of these suggestions.  In the absence of evidence they are gossip, no more.  Indeed they may be rumours that would not have otherwise been created other than in the vacuum of information brought about by the existence of super injunctions.

Very few of us know whether, by merely mentioning these allegations, we are violating a super injunction and are guilty of contempt of court.  What we do know however is that there is something out there we mustn’t talk about, we just don’t know what.  Thus the existence of super injunctions has the potential to quash both speculation and legitimate discussion about other prominent people, some of whom might rightly be exposed.

As Ian Hislop rightly pointed out there was a case for exposing Andrew Marr because he could, quite easily, have found himself interviewing a public figure over their personal shortcomings.  It’s not that his own should rule him out of such interviews, it’s just that they cast the failings of his interviewee in a slightly different light – reminding us that we should perhaps, on occasion, be more forgiving of human weakness.

Beyond that however it opens the door to a dark world, the like of which we see in dictatorships elsewhere, where the surest form of control is to create such fear that people will censor themselves.

Nor, in this interconnected age, do super injunctions hold internationally.  A blogger in the Phillipines need have nothing to fear from the High Court in London, nor a paper in Peoria, a printer in Padua or a Pretoria TV presenter.  The only people who can be gagged by this are the citizens of the nation for which Magna Carta was framed, a nation whose one time leader, the Duke of Wellington, when confronted with this sort of petty scandal, declared ‘publish and be damned.’

What has become of us?  For these reasons, if for no others, we should resist super injunctions in every way that we are able.

UPDATE May 6th

Gabby Logan has issued a statement denying that she has obtained a super injunction and also denying any affair with Alan Shearer.  One has to take this at face value in the absence of any information to the contrary.  In which case it is a clear example of how the frenzy of speculation prompted by the super injunction phenomenon leads to other parties being the subject of unfounded speculation.

Frankly none of this would be an issue if people were less interested in the private lives of the well known but largely talentless and more interested in the stuff that really affects their lives – for instance the way the UK tax regime favours the hyper wealthy international jet set over British taxpayers.  Now that is  a scandal.

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One Response to “One Law For The Rich”

  1. sally crowley Says:

    Hurrah for some common sense! Superinjunctions create a scary precedent: secrets are dangerous and we need a robust press to protect us from them. Our press should be able to publish ANYTHING as long as it’s true. It might be sad for some, but if they did it (whatever it is) then they must live with the consequences – the few who have obtained them on the grounds that it might upset their children in the playground should blame their own behaviour, not that of those who expose it – their disappointment is a price worth paying for that freedom. There is a case for a few of them, for example, in the case of genuine national security, or on grounds of taste (eg I don’t want to watch someone’s deep grief), and even celebrities who seek publicity must be allowed privacy in their own homes, but that’s about harrassment. not publication. And they should still be able to sue if reporting is inaccurate. Mind you, that didn’t do David Beckham any good in the US, did it? So maybe the press should be able to print even lies as long as it’s ‘in good faith’ ie it’s the informer who’s lying rather than the journalists – sue the kiss-and-tell peddlers, not the publishers. Come on, Parliament, time to outlaw these invidious barriers.

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