Injunctions and the restriction of information

Injunctions - unfairly restricting the flow of information?

There has obviously been a lot of chatter in the past few days in the light of the recent revelations regarding a certain well-known personality (I’m not going to name names given that the injunction is still in place).  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the injunction that is in place, the main focus of the discussion has been the kind of prurient revelations that are manna from heaven for the tabloid press.  Their rabid attempts to reveal the name of the individual involved have caused many to question any attempt to break an injunction.  However, not all injunctions are in place to protect celebrities from the tabloid press.

Previous to the recent revelations, John Hemming MP had revealed to the House of Commons a case that was particularly disturbing.  From The Telegraph:

Politicians criticised the injunctions as an “affront to democracy” after John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, disclosed details of one on the floor of the Commons last week.

The hyper-injunction goes a step further. Mr Hemming told the Commons that the order, which was obtained at the High Court in 2006, prevents an individual from saying that paint used in water tanks on passenger ships could break down and release potentially toxic chemicals.

It specifically bars the person from discussing the case with “members of Parliament, journalists and lawyers”, along with the US coastguard and any ship owners, and also forbids any speculation linking chemicals in the paint with the illness of any individuals.

It says: “The defendant must not communicate to the third parties any speculation that the illness of any individual (including without limitation the collapse of H) was, has been or will be brought out by the chemical composition or the chemicals present in the coating of the potable water tanks.”

This is a particularly disturbing case.  To prevent an individual from even discussing a case with his MP is a gross violation of their democratic rights.  The ability of a corporation to restrict this information is also deeply troubling.  I am not going to pass judgement on the nature of the allegations (obviously), but the individual concerned should at least have the right to discuss the action that has been taken against them with their MP.  One wonders how many other such injunctions have been issued.

It is a shame that one sexual scandal has overshadowed the issue of injunctions.  Their use isn’t always restricted to personal matters between two individuals, they’re also utilised to stop the public gaining access to information which is very much in their interest (a case of public interest rather than in the interest of the public).  As someone working in the information field, any restriction on the flow of information is troubling and the aforementioned case especially so.  Of course, the woolly legislation around injunctions and privacy needs to be resolved by the judiciary and politicians as soon as possible.  And resolved in the best interests of the general public, not the media or wealthy individuals who can afford to take out such injunctions.

It is a shame that it was the tabloid baiting injunction that was revealed to the public, but it is entirely understandable why.  I don’t know if it was foremost in Hemming’s mind (I think events involving the attempts to gag Twitter users and imprison a journalist were possibly uppermost) but you can be assured that if the individual referred to in the Telegraph’s piece was revealed, there would barely be a murmur in the media.  It is a rather sad indictment of our celebrity obsessed culture that the only way to ensure publicity of such injunctions was to refer to the case of a renowned sportsman rather than that of a potential public health issue.

Whatever the motive and whatever the reasoning, the flow of information that is genuinely in the public interest should be protected at all costs.   This is the issue that should be central to the debate, not the private lives of so-called ‘celebrities’.

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