Now they want to gag Parliament! Judges want to stop Press reporting debates

Daily Mail
20.05.2011
By Daily Mail Reporter

The most senior judges in England and Wales were today caught up in a row with MPs about whether the Press should be allowed to report parliamentary debates in full.

The Lord Chief Justice said newspapers could be found in contempt of court for merely reporting what was said in Parliament.

Lord Judge said the media are only protected from prosecution if statements are published ‘in good faith and without malice’.

Yesterday Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham of Droxford used Parliamentary privilege to claim RBS former chief executive Sir Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin had an affair with a senior colleague.

This led to a partial lifting of the injunction hiding the relationship and the ensuing coverage by the media.

MPs have claimed that the alleged affair could have affected the Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive’s judgment as the bank collapsed.

The review comes after Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming recently highlighted two cases in parliament.

Last month he asked in the House of Commons about an order obtained by former Royal Bank of Scotland chief Sir Fred Goodwin, which banned the media from calling him a banker, and about another order which banned a constituent from talking to his MP.

Mr Hemming said today the review was an ‘attempt to gag the media in discussing the proceedings in parliament’ and was a ‘a retrograde step’.

‘What I find disappointing is that there does not seem to be any recognition by the committee that perhaps there is too much secrecy.’

Senior Tory David Davis agreed with him. ‘The judges are wrong in any implicit or explicit criticism of parliamentarians who use privilege to expose the existence of super-injunctions,’ he said.

‘If it were not for both Lords and MPs being able to speak openly about super-injunctions, the public would still be largely unaware of this and other misuses of judicial procedure.’

Earlier, Lord Judge said that senior judges would be holding talks with the speakers of the Commons and the Lords over the issue.

He said: ‘It will take quite an effort for Parliament to get a grip on this.’

The 12-strong committee headed by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, admitted that too many gagging orders have been allowed in recent years.

A landmark report found there were justifiable concerns that a form of ‘permanent secret justice’ had begun to develop in Britain since 2010.

Lord Judge, said injunctions would only be issued in future when ’strictly necessary’ — so as to protect freedom of speech.

Lord Judge also condemned ‘liars’ who use Twitter to break injunctions, declaring: ‘Modern technology is totally out of control. Anybody can put anything on it.’

An anonymous Twitter user last week set up an account claiming to expose celebrities who have obtained injunctions in an attempt to get around court orders.

Making reference to Lord Stoneham’s comments yesterday, Lord Judge also turned his fire on politicians.

Speaking at the Royal Courts of Justice in London today,  he said: ‘You do need to think whether it’s a very good idea for our law makers to be flouting a court order just because they disagree with a court order, or for that matter because they disagree with the law of privacy which Parliament has created.

‘It’s a very serious issue, in my view. Our constitutional arrangements have been based for centuries on mutual respect.’

But Lord Stoneham defended his decision yesterday to reveal Sir Fred’s injunction over alleged affair. ‘I accept that it would be always the exception and there would have to be very strong public interest,’ he said.

The judges concluded that in future the media should be allowed into court during injunction hearings.

While not referring to any specific case, the Lord Chief Justice said injunctions which bar reporting of people’s private lives would only be issued in future when ’strictly necessary’.

He admitted too many such orders — some of which have barred disclosure even of their existence — had been handed out and vowed to uphold the ‘treasured principle’ of open justice.

Although Parliament has never debated a privacy law, Lord Judge said that by introducing human rights laws, Parliament had effectively brought one in.

He said the consequences of the legislation was ‘clearly explained to Parliament before the Human Rights Act was enacted’.

‘Contrary to some commentary, unelected judges in this country did not create privacy rights. They were created by Parliament,’ he added.

‘Now that they have been created, judges in this country cannot ignore or dispense with them: they must apply the law relating to privacy matters as created by Parliament.’

Lord Neuberger added: ‘Where privacy and confidentiality are involved, a degree of secrecy is often necessary to do justice.

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