Moment that mattered: John Hemming MP names Ryan Giggs in the Commons
“If you go by the YouGov survey that was done as I spoke about Giggs [being the footballer who had taken out a superinjunction] in the House, 82 per cent of people were sure they knew who it was before I mentioned it and 79% were right. The name was in the public domain. Just look at the ‘Spycatcher’ case from 1988: the ban on publication in the UK of a book by a former MI5 operative was lifted after it was concluded that something that is published in Australia can be published in England. What we had here was something published on the web all over the place and in a paper [The Sunday Herald] in Scotland.
In fact an erstwhile Member of Parliament, Paul Marsden, had actually published something on his blog mentioning Giggs two days beforehand, on Saturday 21st May. What’s clear to me is that when I mentioned Giggs’s name in the House of Commons, it would have been lawful outside the House too: I could have done it in Scotland without question. I could probably have done it at Speaker’s Corner, seeing that Paul Marsden did it in Shrewsbury.
Everything we say in parliament has parliamentary privilege, and I have said things in parliament that would have been considered contempt of court had they been said at Speaker’s Corner. But on this occasion I don’t think it was necessary as the information was so much in the public domain. The YouGov poll might have been slightly skewed – but even if it had been just 40 per cent of people overall who knew, if you’ve got a “secret” that’s known by 20 million people in the country, it’s not a secret.
I am concerned by the idea that somebody who jokes about somebody else on Twitter could be subject to potential criminal proceedings. I would not have expected anyone to go to jail [over breaking the Giggs injunction on Twitter] but the legal costs to fight prosecution could be of the order of about £10,000.
The difficulty we have in the age of Twitter is that there is a very complex multi-jurisdictional situation. Take another case which was reported by David Leigh in The Guardian on Tuesday 24th May, in which somebody was trying to get his sister-in-law imprisoned for not following a court injunction in a secret libel case. I don’t think that sort of thing should happen; I think if you’re going to go as far as removing somebody’s liberty, that’s when the veil should come off and you should say, “This is who I am.” I think it’s a question of balance: on one side you have people’s liberty and on the other you have their embarrassment. I am concerned we don’t have equality before the law and what we are thinking is that the embarrassment of one person is more significant than somebody else’s liberty. I disagree with that.
I take the view, which is a slightly complex one, that the public do not have the right to know but the media do have right to report. The argument the press use is that the public have a right to know. They don’t, but this is about freedom of speech and if the state is going to get involved in constraints on freedom of speech it has to be very careful that it has a substantial reason for doing so rather than just a few red faces.”
John Hemming is the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley
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