Seven high-profile people in Northern Ireland have won gagging orders... but we can't tell you who they are
Free speech campaigners in call to protect open debate
Seven super-injunctions have been granted in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.
The gagging orders, which are so secret that the media cannot even report that an order has been obtained, were awarded by the High Court in Belfast.
One was granted within the last 18 months, Justice Minister David Ford said.
It is not known how many more were sought but not granted by the courts.
It will reopen the debate on the controversial orders, which some claim are being used to gag public interest journalism.
A super-injunction prevents anyone publishing information about the applicant which is said to be confidential or private, and crucially also stops anyone reporting that the injunction itself even exists.
The exact number of orders across the UK isn't clear, but in October 2011 a Parliamentary committee heard that 10 celebrities were relying on them to stop details of their private life being revealed by the media.
Footballer Ryan Giggs and former RBS chief executive Fred 'The Shred' Goodwin were both named in the House of Commons by MPs using Parliamentary privilege as recipients of super-injunctions.
Seven orders were granted in Northern Ireland between 2009 and 2013.
The figures, released after an Assembly question from TUV leader Jim Allister, have caused concern among free speech campaigners.
Robert Sharp from English PEN, a group which works to defend and promote free expression, said super-injunctions were deeply problematic:
"For the court to make a ruling, and then also to declare that the ruling cannot be made public, goes against the idea of open democracy and debate," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We know that in the past rich multinationals have used super-injunctions to gag legitimate public interest journalism. Has this happened again in Northern Ireland? Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing."
Last year it emerged that legislation aimed at reforming the UK's outdated libel laws would not be extended to Northern Ireland after it was blocked by the Executive.
Mr Sharp said open debate must be protected.
"The super-injunction figure is a canary-down-the-mine: an early warning signal that all is not right with free speech in Northern Ireland," he added.
"Last year the Stormont Executive failed to adopt the free speech provisions in the Defamation Act, so citizens of Northern Ireland are already living under more restrictive speech laws than the rest of the UK. The increase use of super-injunctions adds to this imbalance.
"MLAs need to act fast to protect open debate."
Super-injunctions granted by the High Court since 2009:
2009 – 2
2010 – 2
2011 – 2
2012 – 0
2013 – 1
2014 – 0