Sir ‘Fred the Shred’ Goodwin, the ex-boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, found himself unmasked yesterday when LibDem Peer Lord Stoneham stood up in the House of Lords and, using a 300 year old rule of parliamentary privilege said “Every taxpayer has a direct public interest in the events leading up to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland. So how can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague? If true, it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would be allowed to know about it.”
This comes on the heels of stories about other rich and/or powerful people being given the protection of one of these super injunctions that prevents people even knowing that there is a super injunction.
The use of these super injunctions has been widely criticised as they are only really available to those that can afford the huge cost of setting them up. Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, is currently conducting a review into their use and is expected to warn that they pose a threat to the tradition of open justice. There is also the issue that super injunctions appear to have little or no power over social media such as Twitter.
The problem it seems stems from the need for the judge presiding over the application for a super injunction to balance the applicant’s right to privacy against the freedom of expression of the press and other parties involved.
Lord Irvine speaking in the Lords said “Judges are under instruction from parliament in the Human Rights Act to balance the right of respect for a person's private family life against the right of freedom of expression in article 12.
The scales are weighted in favour of freedom of expression because the act requires judges to have particular regard to its importance. It is often not just the rights of celebrities which are at stake but also those of innocent third parties, including children.
There is typically no significant public interest in the disclosure of peccadilloes of actors, footballers or reality television contestants, although that helps sell newspapers. A prurient interest does not equate to a legitimate public interest.”
So what happened to truth and responsibility in all this? Are they to be sacrificed at the altar of human rights?
Are the repercussions of immoral or amoral behaviour reserved only for the poor?
When ‘ordinary people’ have an illicit affair and it becomes known it can affect all those involved as profoundly as it does any rich and powerful person. It may not make the press but it does make the gossip down the local and corner shops as well as in their workplace. And their families also have to suffer the consequences without protection. It’s just the size of the publicity bubble that is different.
The rich and powerful should not be protected from their folly just because they can afford it.
One could also argue that hiding the truth is actually lying. So the law is being used in these cases to maintain a false picture of events. Can it be right to portray the rich and powerful as somehow more righteous than the rest of us when they are not? A picture of a flawless elite painted over tat. Surely this encourages the rich and powerful to act as they please in the knowledge that consequences are not for them.
In these circumstances it should not be the role of the courts to think about and protect these people and their families. That was the task of the perpetrator(s) prior to, during and after the event.