In the topsy‑turvy world of celebrity obsession, it took a tweet by the famous daughter of an obscenely rich family to decisively lift the lid on super‑injunctions.
Jemima Khan got caught in the crossfire, as a Twitter hero tried to “out” the rich and famous people who have kept their tawdry sex lives secret. They’ve used judges to ban even mentioning that they’ve gone to court to cover-up their indiscretions.
Khan was at pains to tweet that she had never been a party to a super‑injunction to halt the publication of “intimate photographs” with her friend Jeremy Clarkson.
Ironically, she is the daughter of the late right wing billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith.
He spent a fortune in the courts to silence Private Eye magazine’s scrutiny of his business dealings, almost bankrupting it.
The then editor, Richard Ingrams, almost ended up in jail. He charted the saga in the book Goldenballs.
The genie finally left the bottle last week as the media, bound by gagging orders, used Khan’s public cries of innocence to talk about the issue.
A series of women have now told the media about the intimate moments with famous married men which were subject to these orders.
The law has been made to look even more of an ass as foreign media, who are not affected by the gagging orders, revealed more names.
The Daily Mirror website reported on Friday of last week that allegations that a married Premier League footballer had a six-month affair have been revealed by Spanish media.
It didn’t appear in print that day, however. And I haven’t said who it is here because I don’t want to get Socialist Worker into legal hot water.
BBC political presenter Andrew Marr admitted that he is ashamed of getting a super-injunction in 2008 to cover-up reports of an affair.
He said, “I did not come into journalism to go around gagging journalists.” You got that right, Andrew. Whatever happened to standing up for press freedom?
Even David Cameron says he feels uneasy about the increasing use of such orders. Was his response to rush in some new legislation? No—he left it to top judges to set up a committee to police themselves.
Newspapers and some politicians are now calling for super-injunctions to be scrapped.
Because these allegations can fly around Twitter and the internet for ages, they are undermining the effectiveness of the super-injunctions anyway.
Lawyers have pointed out that this has echoes of the Spycatcher case in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher’s government banned former spy Peter Wright from publishing his autobiography.
When it was published abroad, people brought suitcases full of copies back to Britain. Thatcher was forced to admit defeat as the ban became untenable.
The fluff and gossip at the heart of many of these allegations is not important. But journalists should be free to investigate the activities of the rich and powerful.
For example, it is important that corrupt bosses are held to account.
One prominent example of a super-injunction being used to hide a more serious issue is that of shipping company Trafigura in 2009.
The company dumped 500 tonnes of toxic waste onto the coast of Ivory Coast.
As a result, over 74,000 Ivorians went to hospitals and clinics for evaluation.
But Trafigura sought a super-injunction to block the Guardian newspaper from reporting on questions raised in parliament about the spill.
The super-injunction was removed several days later, after a public outcry and coverage by foreign news agencies.
This saga helps to expose the lie that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.
The rich can use the law to screen themselves from scrutiny—whether it’s who they sleep with or who they do dodgy deals with.
Judges are not there to see justice done. They will use the legal system to benefit the ruling class.
Just ask any British Airways striker who has been repeatedly prevented from walking out by greedy, vicious bosses who use the law to stop them.
And there are plenty of law firms like Mishcon de Reya that are only too willing to find a new way to protect their rich clients.
After all, it’s vastly profitable being the running lapdog of capitalism.
Julia Armstrong is a journalist working in Sheffield and mother of the chapel (union convenor) for Sheffield Newspapers NUJ. Written in a personal capacity