Murder Most Public

Super InjunctionFamily, gather round the sick bed. Chaps, hunt down your black ties. We’re in the presence of Dead Law Walking.

The preposterous and increasingly pointless Super Injunction is gasping its last breaths. Pretty soon, we’ll hear the death rattle in its throat. It’s over. It has been murdered, publicly and horribly.
And like some Agatha Christie novel, the victim is so full of stab wounds, it’s hard to know just who struck the fatal blow.

The assault from the Internet has been quite enough to kill it where it stood. Where’s the point in a Super Injunction if Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere tear the privacy veil to tatters? Keeping a story out of the traditional media no longer provides any kind of lasting protection for the publicity-shy public figure. I could float a story on the Internet right now which would reach a million people before it saw a word printed in the press. And before any lawyer could be rushed to the baricades.

Mr Justice Tugendhat may have warned that anyone who uses the Internet to breach a court order still leaves themselves open to a claim for damages. But the good judge is whistling in the wind. He doesn’t understand the Internet. Too many people will pay no attention. Too many will simply not believe him. And when a fierce firm of ferocious lawyers finally tracks down Ernest Hardbottle of 12 the Larches, to duff (in legal parlance) him up for breaching the Court Order, they will find that his only seizable assets are Mrs Hardbottle and the family cat. Meanwhile, Ernest’s “leak” will be carried on by a thousand other voices across the net. Will they hunt them all down, too?

But it may have been Lib Dem MP John Hemming who struck the mortal blow when in March of this year, he used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Fred Goodwin in open defiance of the super injunction binding us all to secrecy. Maybe it has been bleeding to death ever since .

But if John Hemming’s was not the death blow, the wounded beast could never have survived the battering of the past few days when Lord (”put-em-in-the-stocks-and”) Stoneham, asking a Question on behalf of Lord Oakeshott, completely destroyed any shreds of anonymity that Sir Fred might still have hoped to wrap around himself.

Yes, of course, the dying patient may stagger on a year or two. Three at the most. But who will bother to use it, who will bother to go to the cost and the effort of seeking out a super-injunction, when they know that it simply won’t work ; worse, when they know that their attempt to gag the press, and to gag us all will in itself add wings to the story? If it’s not dead today, the super-injunction is surely mortally wounded.

Yes, of course there’s a place for legal action in matters of privacy. But the Super Injunction is not the answer. And part of the answer will lie outside the legal process. It will lie in the way you work with the press. In fact (and I know many won’t believe this), most journalists are not monsters. They don’t like being lied to, and they don’t like being gagged. But if you are straight with them, then usually they are straight with you (and of course, any good PR operator has his or her little list of “Serpents not to be Trusted”. We know who they are!). Declare war on the Press and , in the end, nearly always, you lose. Much better to work with them, and at least have a chance to shape the story, and to have your version of events heard. And, in fact, a decent journalist is quite capable of being a decent human being. I can think of several occasions where journalists have held back from inflicting further pain, because to do so would be unnecessary and would add nothing to the story. And because journalists are human beings too.

Well, most of them.

And I know they will give the Super Injunction a decent funeral, and a riotous wake.

Terence Fane-Saunders

20 May 2011