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Daily View: The battle between MPs and judges over Ryan Giggs

Clare Spencer | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Imogen Thomas and Ryan Giggs


A married footballer named on Twitter as having an injunction over an alleged affair with a reality TV star has been identified in Parliament as Ryan Giggs. Commentators dissect how the battle was played out between the media, judges and Parliament.

Rachel Sylvester says in the Times newspaper that the row over privacy is just part of a deepening battle between Parliament and judges:

"The controversy over super-injunctions is just one aspect of what a minister describes as 'an old fashioned power struggle between two estates of the realm' - Parliament and the courts. In February MPs voted in favour of keeping a ban on prisoners voting - in defiance of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The government is also involved in a long-running dispute with the judges over the deportation of foreign prisoners, including terrorists. Around 400 criminals were allowed to stay last year, after appeals. A growing number of prisoners are being granted the right to remain under Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to family life, rather than under Article Three, which protects against torture."

In the Daily Mail Quentin Letts says that the person who made the revelation, John Hemming, was motivated by the possibility of publicity:

"Then Mr Hemming had his moment. 'Mr Speaker,' he said casually, 'with about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs it is obviously impractical to imprison them all.' The House took a moment to respond and Mr Hemming was ploughing further into controversy, saying that a newspaper writer, Giles Coren, was facing the threat of imprisonment.
"At this point Speaker Bercow intervened, stopping Mr Hemming mid-flow and telling him that he should not flout the protocols of injunction law 'for whatever purpose'. Translation: we all know you're just doing this because you're an appalling self-publicist, Hemming."

Andreas Whittam Smith says in the Independent that the whole affair is not about principles but about the media regaining power from judges implementing the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act:

"So the media naturally turned to a well-tried manoeuvre. They would scrupulously obey the injunction while unofficially leaking its contents far and wide. Their hope is that they will reach a situation, whether by widespread publication overseas, or even in Ireland or Scotland, or by the chancing of arm by editors of small circulation publications, when they will be able to say 'Look, the news is out, what is the point of the injunction? It is unfair.' Nowadays, of course, with the development of the internet, nothing could be easier.
"Especially as some MPs have decided that they wish to join forces with the media. They do this because they are always looking for an occasion to let judges know that they make the law, not judges. This is unfair on the judges who can only work with the legislation that Parliament supplies, but tant pis. This is about power when it is not about money."

Lawyer and journalist Clive Anderson says in the Telegraph judges should still decide where the balance between privacy and freedom of speech lies on a case-by-case basis, as long as they do not restrict too much:

"So, as far as possible, let us have a free press - and, as far as possible, let's not involve judges in regulating what is published. Injunctions should be reserved for the most extreme cases, not routine stories of kiss and tell. There are a number of plays that get put on which are a bit ropey or even offensive, but we don't want to give the Lord Chamberlain power to regulate the theatre again.
"Oh, and I suppose that we should in our private lives do as few things as possible that we wouldn't want discussed in public... No, that's not going to work."

The Guardian's editorial revels in the "constitutional crisis" between Parliament and courts being provoked by a footballer's love life but asks everyone to calm down:

"The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, brought a measure of calm good sense to the affair by announcing a joint committee to investigate all the issues raised by privacy injunctions. A period in the long grass may be a good idea to allow some sense of perspective to return to the debate."

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