Ryan Giggs has been named as the premiership footballer at the centre of a media gagging order after a Liberal Democrat MP used parliamentary privilege to flout an injunction.
John Hemming, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, was rebuked by Commons speaker John Bercow after using a question to attorney general Dominic Grieve to name the Manchester United midfielder.
Hemming made the intervention after Grieve announced that David Cameron had requested a joint committee of peers and MPs investigate the use of gagging orders. It came amid warnings from one influential Conservative MP that the actions of thousands of people posting details on Twitter of individuals involved in superinjunctions risked making the law “look an ass”.
To the condemnation of some of his colleagues, Hemming, who has been campaigning on the issue, exercised parliamentary privilege to identify the star at the centre of the injunction just minutes after the high court refused to lift a ban on naming the sportsman, who is said to have had a relationship with Imogen Thomas, the former Big Brother contestant.
“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it’s obviously impractical to imprison them all,” Hemming said.
He also went on to declare that Giles Coren, The Times columnist, was the journalist supposedly threatened with contempt of court proceedings in relation to another privacy injunction – although Grieve had previously told MPs that he was not planning legal proceedings against any journalist in relation to this case.
Moments after Hemming had named Giggs, Bercow interrupted to tell the MP: “Let me just say to the honourable gentleman, I know he’s already done it, but occasions such as this are occasions for raising the issues of principle involved, not seeking to flout for whatever purpose. If the honourable gentleman wants to finish his question in an orderly way, he can do so.”
Hemming continued: “The question is what the government’s view is on an enforceability of a law that clearly doesn’t have public consent.”
Grieve, who would be responsible for any prosecution for contempt, told MPs that it was their duty “as parliamentarians” to uphold the rule of law.
The attorney general announced the prime minister’s decision to have a joint committee examine the issues raised by the events of the past few months and, in particular, the past weekend relating to the superinjunction.
Grieve told MPs that the committee would examine whether the current system was working. Cameron had written to John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Commons culture committee, recommending the setting up of a new body.
Setting out Cameron’s recommendation, Grieve said: “Such a committee would be able to use representation of both houses and the considerable expertise that select committees have to examine whether the current arrangements are working and to consider whether we might make any changes that might make things work better.”
Grieve announced the move in response to an urgent question in the Commons from Whittingdale on the use of injunctions.
Earlier, the high court refused to allow journalists to name Giggs as the married footballer at the centre of the alleged affair with Thomas.
Lawyers for the Sun asked for the controversial privacy ruling to be lifted after a Scottish newspaper identified the star at the weekend and the prime minister said he knew the footballer’s identity “like everybody else”.
Cameron had also said on Monday morning that the UK’s current law on privacy is “unsustainable”.
He added that a situation whereby newspapers “can’t print something that everyone else is clearly talking about” is unfair.
The prime minister said the government had “to take some time out” to look at the matter, but said there was no “simple answer”. He suggested one option could be to beef up the press watchdog.
“It’s not fair on the newspapers if all the social media can report this and the newspapers can’t, and so the law and the practice has got to catch up with how people consume media today,” Cameron said.
Later, Grieve told MPs that a balance needed to be struck.
He said: “The government believes freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy and it is of the greatest importance that people should be able to discuss and debate issues as freely and openly as possible. This includes those occasions when freedom of speech is exercised provocatively, as it’s supposed to be in a free country.
“Plainly, however, there are also occasions when an individual is entitled to have their privacy protected. There is a balance to be struck and this is reflected in our existing legal framework.”
There were “widely differing views” on what that balance should be, he acknowledged.
Grieve welcomed the report produced last week by a panel of senior judges on the operation of injunctions and superinjunctions.
“It reaffirms that open justice is a fundamental constitutional principle and that exceptions to this are only permissible to the extent that they are strictly necessary in the interests of justice,” he said.
Grieve, speaking before Hemmings made his contribution, said: “Legal mechanisms exist to review individual decisions which may be mistaken. If we believe in the rule of law, it is our duty as parliamentarians to uphold those principles.”
Whittingdale said the use of social media such as Twitter to breach injunctions was in danger of making “the law look an ass”.
He told Grieve: “You would virtually have to be living in an igloo not to know the identity of at least one Premier League footballer who has obtained an injunction. The actions by thousands of people of posting details of this on Twitter are in danger of making the law look an ass.”
Grieve warned: “The courts do have power to punish those who breach injunctions and those who decide flagrantly to do so should bear that in mind when they embark on that course of action.”
Source The Guardian