MPs must reform privacy laws to simplify the use of injunctions that gag the media, judges said today, throwing the gauntlet at Parliament’s feet.
Judges said the laws surrounding media coverage of injunctions were “astonishingly unclear”, particularly once an order had been ‘outed’ in Parliament.
Addressing the media at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Lord Judge said: “It is, of course, wonderful for you if a Member of Parliament stands up in Parliament and says something which in effect means an order of the court on anonymity is breached.”
He hit back at the criticism the courts have received for granting the orders, blaming MPs for not simplifying the law.
Publishing a year-long review into injunctions and super-injunctions, Lord Judge said: “Judges did not create privacy rights, Parliament did.”
It will take quite an effort for Parliament to get to grips with this. Time and time again it has come up and Parliament has failed to legislate. Lord Judge
The review comes amid heightened concerns over celebrities’ use of the legal gags, and recommended that the media should be given notice of injunction applications and allowed into hearings.
Speaking alongside Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, the Master of the Rolls and senior civil judge in England and Wales admitted that the judiciary does not know exactly how many super or anonymous injunctions have been granted in recent years.
He conceded that before 2010 too many super injunctions were granted – the very existence of which cannot be reported.
Lord Judge said the issue was one for Parliament to remedy, as it makes the law – which the courts simply carry out.
“Parliament will observe all your concerns, Parliament will look at what’s happening and Parliament will decide,” he told journalists.
Read more sex, lies and super-injunctions
Yet, pouring cold water on the idea of a quick fix, Lord Judge said: “It will take quite an effort for Parliament to get to grips with this. Time and time again it has come up and Parliament has failed to legislate.”
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt are understood to have agreed at a meeting yesterday that a Privacy Act is not the way forward.
Instead, they agreed ministers would consider producing more detailed guidance for judges to interpret the Human Rights Act.
Mr Clarke said today: “The report contains important recommendations which will ensure that injunctions are only granted where strictly necessary. The Government is considering the wider issues around privacy and freedom of expression.”
But Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan blamed the “widespread confusion” on a “lack of leadership” from the Government.
While Tory MPs criticised the report, with David Davis claiming that Judge Neugerger was “disingenuous” to suggest that priavy was “not judge-made”. The MP Douglas Carswell blogged: “Perhaps we should be pathetically grateful that their Lordships have allowed the rest of us to even mention the fact (super injunctions)”.
The role of the internet and Twitter in breaching injunctions was also drawn into focus by today’s review. “Why are we assuming that the world of communications can never be brought under control?,” Lord Judge asked.
Last week, an anonymous Twitter user set up an account claiming to expose celebrities who have obtained injunctions in an attempt to get around gagging orders supposedly taken out against the media.
But the messages, which can be read by anyone online, contained serious errors, including a false claim that socialite and campaigner Jemima Khan had stopped publication of pictures of her with Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson.
The Master of the Rolls said that after upholding privacy injunctions he had searched related reports on the internet himself, only to find “often very inaccurate” reports.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming recently highlighted two cases in Parliament.
Why are we assuming that the world of communications can never be brought under control? Lord Judge
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.
A gagging order obtained by Sir Fred was partially lifted by the High Court yesterday after allegations that he had an affair were made public by a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords.
The move, which was not opposed by Sir Fred, came after Lord Stoneham of Droxford used parliamentary privilege to name him in relation to the alleged affair in the Lords.