9 May 2011

Twitter user ‘names’ super-injunction celebrities

As a Twitter account names celebrities who it claims have obtained super-injunctions, Jemima Khan has denied she stopped publication of pictures of her with Jeremy Clarkson.

By Monday evening, the user, who cannot be named, had attracted more than 46,000 followers.

Jemima Khan, one of the people named, has subsequently come out and denied the allegation contained in one of the tweets, that she had stopped publication of pictures of her with Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

Late last night the socialite and journalist tweeted: “OMG – Rumour that I have a super injunction preventing publication of ‘intimate’ photos of me and Jeremy Clarkson. NOT TRUE!”

OMG – Rumour that I have a super injunction preventing publication of ‘intimate’ photos of me and Jeremy Clarkson. NOT TRUE! Jemima Khan, via Twitter

In a later tweet she stated: “The proof that I haven’t got a super injunction is that the papers have printed my name (and no one else’s – for fear of being sued).”

There has been growing disquiet in the UK about celebrities’ use of gagging orders – whose existence cannot be reported – to stop publication of details of their private lives.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is “a little uneasy” about the increasing popularity of injunctions among celebrities.

On 21 April he said he believed judges in the UK “are creating a sort of privacy law whereas what ought to happen in a parliamentary democracy is Parliament, which you elect and put there, should decide how much protection do we want for individuals and how much freedom of the press and the rest of it”.

TV presenter Andrew Marr revealed at the end of last month that he had taken out a super-injunction in January 2008 to suppress reports of an extra-marital affair.

What is a super-injunction?

Super-injunctions were not invented for celebrities by lawyers and judges, but by the Attorney General on behalf of the Government to protect notorious criminals - such as Mary Bell and James Bulger's killers - whose murderous crimes were so objectionable that their safety, if and when released, could be imperilled.

Read more: Sex, lies and super-injunctions

The latest development revives questions about the legal issues surrounding publication of private information on the internet. To what extent is Twitter responsible for information published on an individual’s Twitter account?

Media lawyer Duncan Lamont told Channel 4 News: “Twitter can rely on on the principles that determine that search engines such as Google are not responsible for defamatory comments.

“What we’re dealing with here is contempt of court, which doesn’t have to be deliberate but involves commission of a crime. Clearly Twitter hasn’t been involved â?? it hasn’t aided and abetted â?? but it has provided a way for the tweeter in question to publish.

“But Twitter will have to provide information if today’s case ever comes to court. A court order could require Twitter to provide all the information it has about whoever has set up the account.”

Privacy injunctions

Interviewed on Channel 4 News, the media lawyer Sara Mansoori, said that most of the injunctions referred to were not, in fact, super-injunctions, but privacy injunctions, preventing the naming of individuals. If someone had knowingly breached the terms of the injunctions they would be liable to contempt proceedings and could face the possibility of fines, imprisonment or having their assets seized if they could be found.

In January of this year the Twitter account details of four people, including Julian Assange and Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, were subpoenaed by a secret US grand jury in connection with an espionage investigation into the whistleblowing website.

WikiLeaks said at the time that the US State Department had requested “the private messages, contact information, IP addresses, and personal details of Julian Assange and three other individuals”.