Superinjunctions and the assembly - what's the legal position?

Jim A|llister
Image caption The number of superinjunctions in NI was revealed in a written answer to TUV MLA Jim Allister

Jim Allister's revelation, via a written answer from the justice minister, that four superinjunctions were approved by the Northern Ireland courts since 2007, has led to speculation about whether an MLA might seek to use the privilege of the assembly chamber to expose the individuals involved.

Such an action would mirror that taken by the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming who used the privilege of the House of Commons to name Ryan Giggs, after the Manchester United star had already been identified by thousands of people on Twitter.

However any MLA considering a similar course might hesitate, given an answer provided by the assembly press office to a colleague.

The guidance from Stormont is as follows: "Assembly privilege is narrower than that afforded to MPs in Westminster.

"Assembly privilege is for defamation proceedings only whereas MPs have wider protection.

"An example of that would be where an MP could break a super injunction as one of them did recently - if an MLA did it, he/she would be breaking the law and would not be similarly protected."

Although the 1998 Northern Ireland Act provides blanket protection against libelling someone, the defence against contempt of court appears more tightly drawn.

I notice there is a reference to someone being not guilty of contempt "under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter... in the course of proceedings of the assembly which relate to a bill or subordinate legislation".

So maybe a would-be John Hemming would have to draw up a private members superinjunction bill before they could claim any defence from assembly privilege.