Sunday, 24 April 2011

Super-injunctions and the media missing the point


After perhaps six or so weeks of discussion in various corners of the 'blogosphere' - notably regarding the efforts of John Hemming MP to raise his concerns in Parliament - the big media boys and girls have finally noticed. Or rather have fixed on one aspect of the problem - its use to protect the 'privacy' of footballers, actors and politicians who don't wish for their sexual adventures, peccadilloes and misbehaviour to be paraded across newspapers and TV screen for the public's titillation and entertainment. As the Daily Mirror puts it:

The people who are granted injunctions that prevent the media revealing things of which they are ashamed have two things in common.

They are all rich and they are all men.

These injunctions aren’t just creating a privacy law, which should be the prerogative of Parliament, but can be an attack on women who ­understandably want to reveal how they have been treated.

All very righteous but, I feel, missing the main point. The place where John Hemming started wasn't with some footballer's sex life but with the family courts. With the gagging of people through threats to remove children, with the seeming tendency of the courts to protect the professional rather than the child and with the byzantine - even Kafka-esque - processes within these systems.

The person in question could actually be jailed for telling his MP that he had been in court case No. 773. What is so sensitive about that? In practice, even family court proceedings are not that confidential. I think this case was in the Commercial and Admiralty court. My first question is not just how the hell this could happen – I apologise for the non-parliamentary language, Mr Bone. How does this happen? How many more of these cases are there? How many secret cases do we have in this country, with people being banned from even saying that the case exists?

This is what we should be concerned about. It is not enough for us to be told by some lawyerly opinionator that:

Hemming seems to discount the possibility that the professionals involved may actually be genuinely trying to do what we pay them to do – protect young people like this. 

I know from experience that professionals do try to do their jobs well and to maintain their duty to the child. But that general observation - along with ad hominum attacks on John Hemming and others - is not sufficient to answer the specific charge. And that charge is that the family courts do not always behave properly and that these hyper-injunctions can be used - just as they are with footballers - to prevent the public knowing what the public should have the right to know.

By obsessing about the sins of celebrities, the media are providing a smokescreen for a substantive examination of these issues and, at the heart of them, the use of gagging orders to cover up the failings of public servants.


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