Collateral Damage

So Jemimah Khan has had to deny having an affair with Jeremy Clarkson and she’s had to deny that she took out a super injunction to gag the media on the subject.  You’d really have to dislike the woman not to feel for her.

Meanwhile Hugh Bonneville has been named on Twitter as the actor who had allegedly paid Helen Wood for sex and who was subsequently granted a super injunction to stop that rumour doing the rounds.  If that is the case (and I have to stress again that these allegations, in the absence of evidence, are just unsubstantiated tittle tattle) the super injunction dooesn’t seem to be working.  The free London newspaper Metro tailgated the story with a gossip piece about Bonneville that was full of innuendo and clearly intended to make us believe that the Twitter allegations have substance.

Meanwhile the ‘Wikipedia test’ (that the alleged super injunctees can be identified by virtue of the fact that their pages are locked, indicating that there has at least been an attempt to edit them in a way that is either libellous or in breach of a super injunction) doesn’t clarify the matter much as both Bonneville and the other actor named in conjunction with Ms Wood, Ewan McGregor, have locks of differing kinds on their pages.  They could have both had dealings with Ms Wood or equally it may be that neither did.  In the absence of proper evidence one should treat all such allegations as unsubstantiated.

Certainly people are being named who are blameless in this matter.  If super injunctions persist the collateral damage will continue to increase.  We have to ask whether one flawed person’s privacy is really worth another innocent person’s dignity.

Yet here we are playing out a serious issue in the context of the sex lives of celebrities.  I really couldn’t care who slept with whom.  I would however care if super injunctions became the tool of the rich and powerful to cover up wrongdoing that has a bearing on their fitness to hold office or a position within a major institution.

I also care about the effect that super injunctions have on wider debate.

Thankfully however the internet seems more than willing to take on the courts.  It does so in the knowledge that anonymity/being part of a crowd/being outside the UK conveys a degree of protection.  With more and more people being named in connection with super injunctions it is hard not to wonder how long can they be sustained in the face of the internet assault we’re seeing at the moment.

The big question mark lies over the response of the courts. This issue is being forced to a denoument.  Either the super injunctions collapse because it becomes obvious they’re unenforcable or the courts single out one or two tweeters or bloggers and prosecute.  In the legal view it will be a matter of a court enforcing its prerogative and dignity by jailing a cyber warrior for contempt.  In the public mind it’ll amount to banging up someone plucked from the crowd so that a spoilt rich brat can bully the papers into keeping schtumm about their sexual misadventures.

In the greater scheme of things one senses that the courts can’t win.  Eventually this legal innovation will die discredited.  However,  to highlight the indefensibility of the current situation, some of us may have to lay down our own liberty to protect the liberty of others.

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