Giggs's privacy and MPs' freedom from interference

 

MP names footballer as Ryan Giggs

There is more than one parliamentary privilege. As John Hemming's controversial revelation yesterday demonstrates, MPs enjoy a right to freedom of speech beyond that of mere mortals, unconstrained by the laws of defamation.

But the "ancient and undoubted rights and privileges of the Commons" as proclaimed by the Speaker at the beginning of each new Parliament also include a 'right of freedom from interference'. Our politicians effectively demand a private life.

The secretive world of the Palace of Westminster in which Members of Parliament retain the right to punish "strangers" for contempt of their rules, contains all the contradictions and tensions that judges must weigh up when considering applications for an injunction: where does the right to speak freely stop and the right to privacy begin?

At about tea-time yesterday afternoon there was an interesting shift in the debate, from argument about the reputation of the court injunction to the reputation of parliamentary privilege. Mr Hemming's intervention, designed to demonstrate the futility of a judge's privacy order, served to focus attention away from the Royal Courts of Justice and upon the Palace of Westminster.

Abuse of rights

A sizeable number of the Liberal Democrat's parliamentary colleagues expressed considerable unease at an MP using the special powers and privileges of the Houses of Parliament deliberately to defy an order of the High Court of England and Wales.

Houses of Parliament Inside Parliament MPs are exempt from laws like contempt of court

There has always been a concern that members might abuse their exceptional rights: freed from concerns about defamation laws, an MP could make damaging allegations without, perhaps, ensuring those claims have a strong foundation.

Mr Hemming, for example, made his revelatory remarks without having attended the proceedings at which the injunction he breached was issued. He may feel confident that he is aware of all the arguments that led the judges to grant Ryan Giggs anonymity and concluded in his own mind that they were wrong. Some lawyers, however, would ask whether the backbencher fully understood the implications of his actions.

Judges have become aware that it is the "secret" nature of hearings at which injunctions are discussed and issued that undermine public confidence. The press, which has a particular interest of its own don't forget, paints a picture of the rich and famous using their cash to gag the papers from revealing their sins. The judiciary, however, argues that the legal arguments upon which such matters are based are more complex and nuanced. That is why they have agreed to allow journalists in to watch the process.

Intimate secrets

Judges also want to stress that injunctions are not the exclusive preserve of wealthy bankers and footballers who have problems with the notion of marital fidelity.

Yesterday's ruling from Mr Justice Tugendhat made the point: "In this case the claimant is a footballer, and the injunctions granted in this court are sometimes reported as being disproportionately of benefit to footballers and other sportsmen. But...there is no stereotype which can be used to categorise claimants in privacy actions, and many of them are women." The judge then quotes a privacy case in which all of the claimants "were women or children, some rich, and some not rich."

While there may be public and certainly tabloid anxiety at the court's view that citizens "have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual relationships; sexual conduct being 'an essentially private manifestation of the human personality'", there is also a question as to whether all of us, rich or poor, famous or otherwise, can also enjoy the privilege afforded to Members of Parliament: the right of freedom from interference.

 
Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 48.

    If a politician is unfaithful to his wife, might he not also be unfaithful to his constituents? Athletes and other public figures are payed by the public, seek public adulation, crave publicity and strive to stay in the public eye.
    If you want to live off of the public, then your life must be largely open to the public; otherwise either find a new career or don't commit illegal or immoral acts.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 47.

    So much for the vaunted tradition of a free press revealing what it believes to be the truth. If someone believes he has been slandered then let them go to court, prove it and then punish the offender appropriately.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 46.

    I find it intersting that the argument is over an MP speaking about the injunction rather than whether or not there should have been one in the first place. In the U.S. injunctions are only used in the case of national security or where publicity might influence a trial; even then the fact that there is an injunction is public knowledge.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    Parliamentary privelege to give freedom from interference is necessary to ensure proper functioning of parliament. But it is a great power and therefore must only be used responsibly.

    Hemming did not use it responsibly, there was no need to refer to CTB by name.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    Proceedings in Parliamant are controlled by Parliamant, not the Courts. Court orders don't apply to things said there. It gives MPs (or Lords) a discretion. But this doesn't mean that MPs should say things the courts don't want them to, without good reason, or that Parliament shouldn't control or punish them if they do. This regularly applies to criminal proceedings without argument. Why not here?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    I have a number of concerns with this fiasco.

    Firstly, what does the Honourable member for Birmingham Yardley, and former "Love Rat of the Year" think he's achieving by "outing" Ryan Giggs? There is no matter of public interest here; Giggs is a sportsman and not a matter of national security. Giggs's private affairs (no pun intended) are purely that... private.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    #32

    It isn't judge decided - it came free with the rest of the European Convention of Human Rights enacted into law by the last Government. That Parliament failed to consider the full consequences is entirely consistent with the poor standard of legislation generated by the HoC.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 41.

    #14
    I disagree, to make the point about the issues surrounding superinjunctions Mr Hemmings could have raised them without reference to the name - that was unnecessary . Stating the futility of such things in the modern age was all that he needed to do.
    SI do not affect all of us at all , the issue is judging public interest vs interest to public - that is the courts role, not trial by tabloid.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    30. ch21ss

    The scenario you suggest is covered by libel law. That is the correct approach to the publishing of untruths.

    The publishing of truth is a very different matter. Why should it ever be a problem?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    I would take the same view of the MPs revelations as with the newspapers.

    Is there a public interest at stake?

    Example: politician acused of having a gay lover and taking him to a hotel at taxpayer expense. I say the lover is his business. I would love to see papers filled with proper news instead of this nasty rubbish. But if he is using public money wrongly, the papers/MPs should publish.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 37.

    I feel a bit sorry for Ryan Giggs, caught up in this firestorm that's not really about him, more about the principal. I'm personally glad an MP stepped in because the whole idea you can create an injunction covering the whole world, banning anyone from knowing that an injunction has even been put in place is ridiculous! It's like banning smoking, not telling anyone, then putting smokers in prison!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 36.

    Subsidised bars, restaurants, right to smoke, expenses, guffaw session once a week, yes there is more than one sort of privilege in our esteemed mp's enjoy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 35.

    Why should law cover a right to privacy over right to free speech unless it is a matter of public/national security or a case of slander? It is down to you to keep your private life, private (your actions, your choices in life). Why should a court protect the rich for their immoral actions, why are the courts even involved? Having money should not place you above everyone else in society.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    The injunctions have no writ over Parliament. Judges defend themselves by claiming that they only follow the letter of the law, but then make preposterous injunctions over the entire planet "contra mundum". Such hubris is asking for a painful slap-down.

    ch12ss
    "someone makes a popular website where rumours and accusations"
    I believe it's called "Google".

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 33.

    "Judges also want to stress that injunctions are not the exclusive preserve of wealthy bankers and footballers who have problems with the notion of marital fidelity."

    Aren't you forgetting BBC journalists?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 32.

    What is wrong with this judge decided privacy law is that the act was intended to protect us against the state and not the News of the World.

    This law has been used by multi nationals to stifle bad news and any chipping away at it is justified.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 31.

    Add your comment...Testing _Times claims that what John Hemmings did is a blatant abuse of parliamentary priviledge. Not so. It is for the House of Commons alone to determine if a member is in breach of the rules and customs of the House. Not the Queen, not the judges, not even the Speaker. No judge can limit what an MP says in the House, so the injunction is a nullity.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 30.

    I wonder if people will be so sanguine about privacy when someone makes a popular website where rumours and accusations about everyones private lives can be collected and searched on by your neighbours, friends and business colleagues?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 29.

    The judges are there purely to interpret the law of the land. If they feel the need to make new law then that decison should be reviewed by a Parliamentary committee before the judges can use the law again. Although it is not the role of the judges to comment on the social behaviour of society nor is it their role to restrict social debate within society whether that of humanity or business.

 

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