Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Super-injunctions run contrary to the notion of a free and open society

The UK may be a democracy but lawyers are continually trying to chip away at the principles of openness and freedom of speech
The UK may be a democracy but lawyers are continually trying to chip away at the principles of openness and freedom of speech

The UK may be a democracy but lawyers are continually trying to chip away at the principles of openness and freedom of speech. In a case involving alleged former British agent Freddie Scappaticci, a one-time enforcer within the IRA, lawyers for the police and military are trying to get part of the hearing heard in secrecy using laws brought in to deal with the threat from al-Qaida rather than our terrorism legacy. Another partially secret trial involving another agent is due to begin next week.

But even more insidious is the use of super-injunctions to prevent anything being published about high profile figures or companies. These gagging orders are so wide-ranging that the media cannot even report that they have been granted, never mind who to or for what reason.

We know that seven super-injunctions were granted in Northern Ireland between 2009 and last year. One was within the last 18 months.

It is difficult to think of any other legislation which runs more contrary to the notion of a free and open society.

Super-injunctions appear to be issued most often to the rich and powerful – footballer Ryan Giggs and former RBS chief executive Fred Goodwin were both named under Parliamentary privilege as recipients in the UK. They could be used to suppress public interest reporting as well as details of private lives.

Sometimes it is suggested that the super-injunctions are sought because the person involved might be at risk if certain facts were made public.

But there is no way of testing that suggestion.

Indeed, such is the secrecy surrounding super-injunctions that the media could be at risk of unwittingly breaking them by publishing information about a recipient who was unknown to a newspaper or other media outlet. It is always a worrying sign when the State or individuals use the law to suppress legitimate debate.

Super-injunctions are pieces of legislation which raise those concerns to an even higher pitch.

There are plenty of laws available to rein in the media – not least the libel legislation here, which is more stringent than in other parts of the UK – without these legal cudgels.

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz