Internet savvy lawyers including David Allen Green and Charon QA spent part of Monday decrying Twitter’s involvement in the outing of the adulterer Ryan Giggs.
A commonality between the two them was their denouncing those who took it upon themselves to name Giggs as ‘unpaid reportertweeters’ who were ‘cheered on by tabloid journalists’. Yet others have called the behaviour mob rule.
Are they right? Is the outing of someone who clearly couldn’t keep to his marriage vows really a useful thing for everyone to have done?
The answer, as always, is a shade of grey.
It is perfectly understandable that those who have being playing away from home would prefer that their partners didn’t find out. The question therefore is to what lengths they should be able to go to in order to avoid that happening. The average Joe who doesn’t have £50,000 plus to donate to large, well known law firms so that their lawyers can pay their children’s school fees quite plainly doesn’t have the same options as a rich banker or celebrity and so will not be protected by the courts. However they are also unlikely to find their infidelities spread across several papers of the Sunday tabloids for whatever readership there remains to gawk over.
Unfortunately for the rich this is considered, in an age where information is freely (or cheaply) available, a red rag to a bull. By hiding behind lawyers and the courts all they manage to do is invoke the Streisand effect and bring even more publicity down on their heads. One day they may realise the old adage of today’s news being tomorrow’s chip paper, take the hit and get on with their lives. Yes, the internet makes it harder for things to go away but memories fade and people will generally not care beyond a brief gossip around the water cooler on Monday morning. All that injections manage to do, especially once the name behind one is revealed, is show how far behind the law is in relation to technology,
Indeed, Justice Eady, someone many believe to have made a mockery of British libel laws as a result of his judgements in such cases, said, during one of the two hearings yesterday in which judg’s refused to lift the injunction:
Should the court buckle every time one of its orders meets widespread disobedience or defiance? In a democratic society, if a law is deemed to be unenforceable or unpopular, it is for the legislature to make such changes as it decides are appropriate.
He comes close but doesn’t quite get it. Social media sites such as Twitter have rendered privacy injunctions unenforceable should those who use them, and who have access to knowledge that the courts have decided should not be made public, decide to do so. Any law that is not respected by the mob is a law that should be overturned. The rule of law, a thin veneer of civilised respectability, cannot survive unless those who are subject to it consent to be so – and in this matter it seems that the mob has decided that has concluded that the law in question is out of date. The justice system simply cannot cope with 70,000 people all naming someone they shouldn’t – any more than it is willing to attempt to enforce old, yet possibly still valid, laws banning consumption of items such as mince pies at Christmas or putting a stamp on an envelope the wrong way up. Certainly mass disobedience of the courts is nothing new and the use of the perverse verdict by juries (going against the directions of the judge) is a factor in the use of the death penalty in the UK being scaled back from all manner of offences, including petty ones, to only the most serious of crimes as well as, probably, other changes to the law.
Injunctions though are not just used by people who do not want their infidelities revealed. They have also been used to cover up criminal behaviour on behalf of individuals or corporations. Readers may well remember Trafigura appointing Carter-Ruck in an effort to stop the media reporting on a question concerning them in the House of Commons back in 2009 and the storm of protest that erupted then. Currently live injunctions, that don’t deal with issues of sexual indiscretion, do, according to the bloggers Max Farquar and Fleet Street Fox, cover up criminal activity including the sexual abuse of children. That, not some footballer screwing a non-entity, is a scandal.
All this however is just talking about injunctions taken out by individuals. The activities of two arms of the state, namely the Family Courts and the Court of Protection, are routinely conducted behind closed doors with details kept hidden from the public – and perhaps even those whose case the courts are ruling on. John Hemming, the MP who has been breaking some of the private injunctions under parliamentary privilege, has been campaigning for openness in those two state organs for some time. Hopefully the current row will help his cause.
We don’t need a strengthened privacy law – or indeed the bastard thing we have now thanks to the Human Right’s Act and how it has been interpreted it. What we need is openness in the shape of a strong freedom of speech and a public that has matured enough to not care what the rich and famous get up to between their sheets and with whom. Sadly we have neither.