May 25, 2011

John Hemming Debate Re: Injunctions

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Hon. Members will be aware that I have a long-time concern about secrecy in court processes, which was highlighted in the story in The Guardian today. We have no true freedom of speech when people can be jailed for complaining about their problems. This country seems to have a penchant for covering up problems that would be discussed openly in others.

Florence Bellone, a Belgian journalist, recorded an interview with Carol Hughes and Lucille O’Regan in Ireland, which was broadcast on RTBF in Belgium. A copy was placed on YouTube, but access in the UK is now blocked as a result of what YouTube calls a “government request”. What can be so frightening about that interview that people in the UK are not allowed to see it, but it can be broadcast in Belgium?

The policy of international websites varies. The Twitter account containing the names of lots of people subject to super-injunctions is still there, and will remain there for some time, yet newspapers in the UK are not allowed to refer to it by name. It is clear that in the UK people are now recognising the oppressive nature of court secrecy in this country. For instance, I wrote and released a song about this in 2008, the lyrics of which would have been in contempt of court had they not already been spoken in the House. Since then, however, things have got even worse, with the force of money being used to prevent women from complaining about their ex-boyfriends. One woman who received a super-injunction said to me:

“The process is terrifying…For the first 2 months I shook! And I shake now when talking about it to someone”.

Questions have been raised about whether I should have discussed the row between Ryan Giggs and Twitter yesterday. I am not a party to the privacy case. I have not been served with the injunction. I have not actually seen the injunction and cannot guarantee that it actually exists. I have read his name in the Sunday Herald, and on Wikipedia and Twitter. I could obviously stand on a soapbox in Scotland and say what I said in the House of Commons. I believe I could probably say it on Hyde park corner, because it is in the public domain. For me to have abused parliamentary privilege, I would have had to use it in the first instance, but I do not think that the case has been made that it would have been contempt of court outside the House.

I remain concerned, however, that the process of issuing contempt of court proceedings has been kicked off against users of Twitter. Someone should not be able to hide behind anonymity to take action against others. I am completely unsure what the legal position is in respect of naming Giles Coren. I do not think it would be contempt of court to name him outside the House, yet The Times was worried enough yesterday not to identify him—and he is one of its journalists. I will not identify the footballer whom, it is rumoured, would like to see him prosecuted for tweeting.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I fully approve of the hon. Gentleman’s campaign to ensure that injunctions and super-injunctions do not interfere with our constituents’ ability to contact us and speak to us about issues. However, will he explain to the House why he thinks he is judge and jury on whether certain people under court order should be named in this place? Why does he feel he has the right above anybody else? It seems very strange to use privilege in such a way.

John Hemming: I explained that those details were already in the public domain and accessible in Forbes Magazine, the Sunday Herald and many other places, so I do not think it would have been contempt of court outside the House. However, I accept the Speaker’s ruling on this issue.

I refer hon. Members to a story in The Guardian today relating to another injunction. I shall read out the first paragraph:

“A wealthy British financier is seeking to have his sister-in-law secretly jailed in a libel case, in the latest escalation of the controversy over superinjunctions and the internet, the Guardian can disclose.”

What we have here is true secret justice: somebody is being prosecuted in secret; they cannot be identified; and the person prosecuting them cannot be identified. As a rule, the Attorney-General does not prosecute civil cases, which the privacy cases are; one of the parties usually prosecutes.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): That has nothing to do with what the hon. Gentleman did yesterday.

John Hemming: Actually, it has everything to do with what I did yesterday, because Giles Coren was subject to similar contempt proceedings. There is a great danger that a secret form of jurisprudence will develop that aims to jail people in secret and keep their identities out of the public domain for relatively trivial issues.

The law of confidentiality and privacy, as being developed by the courts, seems to be in opposition to the views of Parliament about whistleblowing. That is an important point. A number of the court orders in place act to prevent people from reporting issues, whether to the police, the General Medical Council, coastguards or whomever. The rule of law is undermined by the court orders preventing that information from being given. That is another important issue.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that judges have also issued court orders naming Members of Parliament as people who cannot be spoken to?

John Hemming: Indeed. The issues of freedom of speech are not just about what goes in the newspapers; they are also about who communicates with whom and how tightly controlled things are. Some of the court orders issued prevent people from complaining to friends about what has been done to them; some prevent them from complaining to Members of Parliament; and others prevent them from going to the police with information. A dangerous system is developing. It is wrong to think that there is a difference between the ZAM case reported in The Guardian today and that of Giles Coren, because he could have faced exactly the same process.

John Cryer: What about Giggs?

John Hemming: The point I was making about Giggs was that his name was in the public domain already, so it would not have been contempt of court to name him outside the House. That is quite straightforward, and it does not, therefore, involve the use of privilege.

However, there is an argument about privilege where the legal position is uncertain, as it can be at times. We do not want to be unable to debate things because working out whether we can talk about them is so complex. Privilege is important and it needs to be used responsibly—there is no question about that—but my argument is straightforward. To have abused privilege, I would have to have used the name in the first instance, yet no one has evidenced to me the basis on which it would have been contempt of court for me to say outside the House what I said yesterday in it, and if it was not contempt of court outside, it cannot be an abuse of privilege within—

Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Why did you not say it outside then?

John Hemming: Because it would not have been reported.

Anyway, the accountability of judicial processes depends not only on there being a public judgment, but on people having the ability externally to challenge the evidence that the courts are using. The problem with secrecy is that this all breaks down. Indeed, the report in The Guardian today about the secret committal of the sister-in-law is an example of exactly that situation, where there is no possibility of checking externally the evidence for whether the assumptions are correct. There are great questions about the reliability of much of the expert evidence provided in the family courts. If we cannot rely on the expert evidence, we will have difficulty relying on the conclusions.

There are many, many problems, and I will obviously be submitting a detailed report to the Joint Committee on the difficulties with the various injunctions. We also have a difficult day today, so I will not use up all my time. The issue of secret jailing is one that we cannot drop. Obviously we cannot do much more about it over the recess, but we cannot allow a process to continue whereby attempts are made to commit more and more people in secret proceedings. This all arises from the objective of protecting relatively trivial secrets, but it is not even close to open justice. The balancing act has completely failed when we are trying to balance somebody’s liberty on one side against something relatively trivial on the other.

posted by john


May 24, 2011

John Hemming Strikes Again and shows what a farce these injunctions are.

I do have to applaud Mr Hemming for naming the footballer trying to silence at least 75,000 people who have named a footballer ( name rhymes with Bryan Spriggs ) using parliamentary privalege .

Some people though will not be aware of why Mr Hemming has an interest in these injunctions.

Injunctions are being dished out on a daily basis through our secret family courts and people are being secretly imprisoned for breaking them.

John quite rightly wants an end to these injunctions that prevent people from speaking out about injustice and protects noone other than the judiciary , social workers and so called expert witnesses.

These injunctions do not protect children as many children end up having to endure a life in a failed care system or being forcibly adopted because noone has been able to speak to anyone about any injustice that may have happened during the secret family court proceedings.

Hence rather than serve to protect children an injunction can  actively promotes the abuse of children by allowing these children to be ‘ farmed out ‘ to the care system based on lies and questionable evidence with no one being able to question those procedures.

I do hope this ‘ civil disobedience ‘ continues and that more MPs start to question who these injunctions are ACTUALLY protecting .

QUENTIN LETTS: Good man John Hemming brought an end to the farce


Last updated at 8:32 AM on 24th May 2011

Maginot Line time. Our rulers huff and puff and tell us plebeians we must not even think about the identities of ‘bonking’ injunctors. We should not worry our heads with such matters. Move on, little people. Nothing for you to see here.

Then John Hemming (Lib Dem, Birmingham Yardley) rises in the Commons and with a blurt names Ryan Giggs (Manchester United association football player, m’lud) as one of those press-gaggers. Gasps. Tuts. Calls of ‘disgrace!’ from the Labour side.

Why on earth should socialist Labour rush to protect a multi-millionaire alleged womaniser? Maybe it’s because Mr Giggs is a left winger.

John Hemming names Ryan Giggs during a discussion on injunctions in the Houses of CommonsMoment of truth: John Hemming names Ryan Giggs during a discussion on injunctions in the Houses of Commons

Agent Hemming, good man, did his deed during a Commons Statement about the injunctions farce. Everyone was mincing around the identity of the footballer, even though it was all over the internet, a Scottish newspaper and assorted foreign organs (if ‘organ’ be the word).

The pomposity of the British Parliament at such moments knows few bounds. They are sent here by the populace yet they talk like semi-strangled gobblers from another era. Is it any wonder non-voters think politics is not for them?

Attorney General Dominic Grieve had spoken at length in a dry, lawyerly way. Mr Grieve gives every impression that he has just stepped from one of Mr Disraeli’s novels. His voice creaked, dust in its hinges. His words may have been scratched down by quill pen.

At one point he talked about ‘the blog-eau-sphe-ar’. Even his fellow pooh-bahs laughed at him for that. For heaven’s sake, matey, you’re a politician, not an extra from Downton Abbey.

Attorney Grieve left the distinct impression, by the by, that he regarded the Press and internet users as impertinent, malign hyenas. How dare they defy the legal establishment? Lord Prescott (gooser of Tracey) sat up in the peers’ gallery, grunting assent like an old porker.

On it went, the House stroking its big belly, lots of them laying into the Press Complaints Commission and, with greater justification, deploring newspapers’ misdeeds on phone-hacking.

Then Mr Hemming had his moment. ‘Mr Speaker,’ he said casually, ‘with about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs it is obviously impractical to imprison them all.’ The House took a moment to respond and Mr Hemming was ploughing further into controversy, saying that a newspaper writer, Giles Coren, was facing the threat of imprisonment.

At this point Speaker Bercow intervened, stopping Mr Hemming mid-flow and telling him that he should not flout the protocols of injunction law ‘for whatever purpose’. Translation: we all know you’re just doing this because you’re an appalling self-publicist, Hemming.

Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) was outraged by Mr Hemming’s sally. Could this be the same Mr Bryant who laid into Prince Andrew in the Commons recently in an equally blatant bid for media coverage? It sure could be, folks. Others on the Opposition benches, and one or two on the Tory side, were disgusted by Mr Hemming. Maybe there was an element of envy – a case of ‘grrr, wish I’d said it first’.

The Sunday Herald newspaper in Edinburgh printed a barely disguised picture of Ryan Giggs on its front coverBreaking ranks: The Sunday Herald newspaper in Edinburgh printed a barely disguised picture of Ryan Giggs on its front cover

Mr Hemming, mission accomplished, sat contentedly in his place, unfazed by his fellow Members’ outburst of sanctimony. In the blink of an eye the Establishment had been confounded, the elite bypassed.

For years libel lawyers have held swanky sway over the public prints. They have menaced and manipulated and, in the process, charged their clients millions of pounds.

Now, thanks to Twitter and others, including Mr Hemming, their edifice has been left looking like one of those south-coast medieval castles which were once on the coast but are now stranded inland.

Earlier in the day I attended a gruesome event at the Royal Festival Hall where Ed Miliband tried, and failed, to connect with Labour activists. Few were there. The media turnout was particularly slim. Poor Mr Miliband seems to be attracting little interest at present.

Perhaps he should hire Messrs Schillings, legal advisers to Mr Giggs. From what one can gather, they are geniuses at attracting attention for their clients.

Speaker John Bercow immediately leapt out of his seat and rebuked Mr Hemming in an effort to protect the Manchester United player's identitySpeaker John Bercow immediately leapt out of his seat and rebuked Mr Hemming in an effort to protect the Manchester United player’s identity

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