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Monday, 23 May 2011

Super Injunctions: the IPKat reveals all ...


It is true to say that UK privacy laws have been subjected to a very public outing of late. Indeed, they have very rarely been far from the UK headlines in recent weeks.

Most notably there has been the speculation and furore on Twitter and the rest of the Internet as to the identity of well-known individuals who had taken out injunctions to prevent details of their indiscretions being made public. In the last week alone, this has included speculation of: an alleged affair between two married stars of a popular UK television show; an alleged encounter between a married British actor and escort Helen Wood; an alleged relationship between a married Premier League footballer and former UK Big Brother housemate Imogen Thomas; the alleged visits of a married British actor to various ‘spanking establishments’ to engage in BDSM activities; the alleged sexually harassing conduct of a married British TV personality towards his female members of staff; an alleged relationship between Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and socialite Jemima Khan (which has since been denied by both parties); and an alleged relationship between former England international footballer Alan Shearer and British TV personality Gabby Logan (which has since been denied by both parties).

Even as this Kat has been preparing this post over the weekend, the case concerning the alleged relationship between a married Premier League footballer and Ms Thomas has reached fever pitch. Late last week, it is this Kat's understanding that the footballer sought to orderTwitter to disclose the names of users who may have breached the terms of his privacy entitlement. Next, several celebrities, some with millions of Twitter followers, posted tweets at the weekend which either identified the footballer in connection to the relationship or heavily hinted at his involvement. Then the Sunday Herald in Scotland published a barely concealed picture of the footballer whom it claimed had obtained the injunction. The newspaper printed his face with his eyes blacked out and the word 'censored' written over the top. In an editorial, the Sunday Herald said it was "unsustainable" for newspapers not to be able to print information which is available on the internet.

Against this frenzy, it is almost prophetic then that on Friday the Committee for Super Injunctions should publish its report Super Injunctions, Anonymised Injunctions and Open Justice. The Committee was set up in April 2010 in order to examine well publicised issues of concern to Parliament, the judiciary, the media, and the wider public, following the Trafigura (RJW & SJW v The Guardian newspaper & Person or Persons Unknown) and John Terry cases (Terry v Persons Unknown [2010] EWHC 119). These concerns centred round the perceived growth in the use and application of super-injunctions and the increasing frequency with which proceedings were being anonymised. The Committee was composed of many pre-eminent figures in media law: Chair Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury (Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice), Desmond Browne QC (5 Raymond Buildings), Rod Christie-Miller (Schillings), Michelle Dyson (Ministry of Justice), Lord Justice Moore-Bick (Deputy Head of Civil Justice), Marcus Partington (Trinity Mirror Plc), Alasdair Pepper (Carter-Ruck), Gillian Phillips (The Guardian), John Sorabji (Barrister) and Mr Justice Michael Tugendhat. Significantly, the Committee did not consider issues of substantive law: as Lord Neuberger stated in the Forward, this would have been ‘inappropriate’. However, the Committee did comprehensively consider the nature of privacy injunctions, procedural issues and data collection.

For those new to the terminology, the Committee defines a super injunction as an interim injunction which restrains a person from: (i) publishing information which concerns the applicant and is said to be confidential or private; and (ii) publicising or informing others of the existence of the order and the proceedings. Further, an anonymised injunction is an interim injunction which restrains a person from publishing information which concerns the applicant and is said to be confidential or private where the names of either or both of the parties to the proceedings are not stated.

In recent times, there has been considerable speculation as to how many super injunctions have actually been granted. Accordingly, this Kat was interested to learn that since the Terry case in January 2010, as far as the Committee was aware, only two known super injunctions have been granted to protect information said to be private or confidential. They were: Ntuli v Donald [2010] EWCA Civ 1276 (set aside on appeal) and DFT v TFD [2010] EWHC 2335 (QB) (granted for seven days for anti-tipping-off reasons). As far as the Committee was aware, applicants now rarely apply for such orders and it is even rarer for them to be granted on anything other than an anti-tipping-off, short-term, basis.


The Committee has made several important recommendations which restate well-established principles. These include:
* As they incorporate derogations from the principle of open justice, super-injunctions and anonymised injunctions, the Committee recommended that they could only be granted when they are strictly necessary. They could not be granted so as to become in practice permanent and so should be kept under review by the court.
* In relation to fast-track appeals, the Committee recommended that there was no justification for introducing a fast-track appeals process or a compulsory appeal process for super-injunctions or anonymised injunctions. This was on the basis that it was already possible to seek expedition of appeals from such orders.
* As for the use of specialist judges to hear applications for interim non-disclosure orders (including super-injunctions and anonymised injunctions), the Committee recommended that this would be neither justifiable nor practicable.
* A longstanding privilege of Parliament is the freedom of speech and debate. Any attempt by the courts to go beyond that privilege enshrined in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 would be unconstitutional. It follows that no super-injunction, or any other court order, could conceivably restrict or prohibit Parliamentary debate or proceedings.
There are, however, a number of proposed changes to the current procedures. These include:
* Practice Guidance should be issued, setting out the procedure to be followed when applying for interim injunctions, with the aim of protecting information said to be private or confidential pending trial. These interim injunctions should in future be referred to as ‘interim non-disclosure orders’. A Draft Guidance is provided in Annex A(1) and (2) to the report.
* The Practice Guidance should be accompanied by a Model Order. A Draft Model Order is provided in Annex B to the report.
* The Ministry of Justice’s Chief Statistician should, with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), consider introducing a data collection system for all interim non-disclosure orders, including super-injunctions and anonymised injunctions.
* Non-parties should be given advance notice of the application hearing. First, the applicant must give the non-party an ‘Explanatory Note’ (if appropriate, this may be anonymised). A Draft Explanatory Note is provided in Annex A(3) to the report. If the non-party gives an irrevocable undertaking to the court, the applicant must provide that non-party with the hearing papers prior to the hearing. A draft undertaking is provided in Annex A(2) (under Clause 13). This is the most substantial recommendation by the Committee and one which the media has been arguing for many years.
The IPKat thinks that, although this is a thorough and well-thought-out Report, the debate is far from over. Those in favour of privacy will be concerned about the increased costs and delays in the proposal to serve explanatory notes and hearing papers on non-parties as well as the general dilution of their Article 8 right to respect for their private life. Those in favour of free speech will be concerned that the recommendations do not go far enough. The Report did not consider the impact of social media, which in light of events concerning the footballer and his alleged relationship with Ms Thomas is another important element to be considered. Obviously the Court cannot stand on the sidelines while its orders are blatantly disobeyed.

Merpel would like to take this opportunity to make clear that she is not involved in any super injunctions or anonymised injunctions.

5 comments:

Gareth said...

Aren't they still alleged indiscretions and relationships?

Anonymous said...

Three questions:

Will these super injunctions, which are apparently not binding on Parliament, result is prurient and popular interest in Hansard?

Would it breach one of these injunctions - which of course we cannot see - to link to a Parliamentary discussion of interest?

Would this be of interest to DSK?

Me, an Artist ? said...

I know, I want the whole world to know my business … I’ll get a Super-Injuction. Surely there are stories that really matter being hidden by these press restrictions. Why are the press only focussing on the crappy little celeb stories. I hope there is more to come.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to monogamy and fidelity? Seems a whole lot easier than getting and enforcing a superinjunction.

Lee said...

Keep it in your trousers if you don't want any negative publicity.

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