High Court lifts Sir Fred Goodwin anonymity injunction

Lord Stoneham reveals details of Sir Fred's injunction

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An order granting anonymity to ex-Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin has been lifted at the High Court.

The existence of Sir Fred's injunction had already been made public by an MP using parliamentary privilege.

The High Court ruling followed a further intervention by Lord Stoneham who used parliamentary privilege to reveal more details to peers.

The judge said the injunction related to a "sexual relationship".

Its lifting comes ahead of the publication of a report on super-injunctions from the Master of the Rolls.

Sir Fred did not oppose the move for his identity to be revealed.

Start Quote

I do not think it is proper for me, from this dispatch box, to comment on individual cases, some of which are before the courts”

End Quote Lord McNally

Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting in London, varied the injunction to allow publication of Sir Fred's name, but not details of the alleged relationship and the name of the woman said to be involved.

Ministers have indicated unhappiness at courts' granting of injunctions, following controversy about celebrities using them to hide details of their personal lives.

'Uneasy'

But the coalition has decided against introducing a Privacy Act to address these concerns, the BBC has learned.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke are understood to have ruled the option out at a meeting on Thursday.

Instead, ministers will consider producing more detailed guidance for judges on how to interpret the Human Rights Act, which guarantees a right to privacy.

Analysis

This is a case of parliamentarians judging that there's a public interest in revealing private information, when the judge hearing the case has decided there isn't. A constitutional tension, if not a full-blown crisis.

Somewhat curiously, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ruled out the possibility of Parliament passing a privacy law. This is in spite of a vigorous press campaign against our judge-made privacy law, and in particular, the powerful secret injunctions that enforce it.

If MPs continue to break privacy injunctions using parliamentary privilege, and people continue to reveal supposedly protected details online, the courts will start to look impotent.

On Friday the Master of the Rolls publishes a report on the use of injunctions which bind the press, including so called super-injunctions. It will have to pull off the seemingly impossible trick of satisfying MPs and the press, and preserving the authority of injunctions granted by judges.

Lib Dem peer Lord Stoneham referred to Sir Fred's injunction earlier using parliamentary privilege, which provides MPs and peers with the centuries-old legal guarantee of free speech within the chamber.

Lord Stoneham told peers: "Every taxpayer has a direct public interest in the events leading up to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, so how can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague.

"If true, it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would be allowed to know about it."

Justice minister Lord McNally replied: "I do not think it is proper for me, from this dispatch box, to comment on individual cases, some of which are before the courts."

A review of the use of super-injunctions was ordered last April. It has been carried out by a committee of senior judges, newspaper group representatives and libel lawyers, and chaired by Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger - the most senior civil law judge at the Court of Appeal.

Lord McNally said the government "recognises the importance of finding the right balance between individual rights to privacy on the one hand, and freedom of expression and transparency of official information on other other".

But the minister said the government wanted to wait for Lord Neuberger's report "before deciding on next steps".

Asked how many super-injunctions were in place, Lord McNally said the Ministry of Justice did not know, but the department's chief statistician was trying to find out and would report back soon.

Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron said the increasing use of such orders made him feel "uneasy" and Parliament, not judges, should decide on the balance between press freedom and privacy.

Sir Fred was widely criticised for his role in the near-collapse of RBS.

In March, Lib Dem MP John Hemming made his injunction public - again by using parliamentary privilege to raise the matter in the Commons.

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