Law, Justice and Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘super injunctions’

What does the public think about privacy injunctions?

In Comment, Journalism, Law, Social research on June 7, 2011 at 9:40 am

By Judith Townend

The public interest is at the heart of the debate around privacy injunctions, but do we know what the UK public thinks?

Unfortunately a new ComRes poll for the Independent doesn’t really tell us. While its themes were interesting – asking participants to consider celebrities’ right to privacy – its structure was problematic.

ComRes interviewed 1,001 adults in Great Britain by telephone between 27 and 29 May 2011 and states: “data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Data were also weighted by past vote recall”. The full poll can be downloaded at this link [PDF].

The Inforrm media law blog has analysed its methodology in greater detail here and asks what the outcome might have been had the statements been flipped around:

… “Celebrities and sports stars owe their lifestyle to their public profile so they should not complain about intrusion into their private lives“.   Unsurprisingly, 65% agreed with this … the formulation of the question clearly suggests the answer.  If the statement had been – “Celebrities and sports stars have rights to privacy like everyone else” – then it seems likely a substantial proportion of respondents, perhaps a majority, would have agreed.

The introduction to the issue was alarmingly simplistic too. Each statement was introduced like this: “Thinking about super-injunctions, do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?”

The survey does not appear to have explained its definition of a super injunction, or acknowledged the complexities of this phrase. As I have explained elsewhere, there is a distinction between an anonymous privacy injunction and a secret ‘super’ injunction whose very existence cannot be reported. Lord Neuberger’s recent report made the same distinction.

Inforrm concludes:

The Independent survey appears to have been designed to prove a point.   However, even against the background of the events of the past few weeks, with heavy hints and plentiful references to super-injunctions it is clear that a substantial proportion of the public has not bought into the media account of these issues.

More research is needed. The question is, therefore, how to formulate a survey that breaks free of the media narrative and presents the issues fairly?

Seeing through the super injunction frenzy

In Journalism, Law on May 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

By Judith Townend

Amid all the excitement, there are some important legal questions to ask about super injunctions and anonymous privacy injunctions.

Lord Neuberger’s committee report released on Friday 20 May goes some way to provide some clarification, in terms of definitions, procedure and identifying uncertainties.

But the debate is far from over, in the newspapers (see left), Parliament and the Courts.

Latest developments raise very interesting questions about Parliamentary Privilege, Contempt, Scottish law and internet regulation.

My commentary for the Guardian argues that the report cuts through some of the media excitement and hysteria, even if it doesn’t answer all the questions. Here’s an extract:

Keeping a level head in response to screams about superinjunctions does not mean there is no need to scrutinise the secrecy and anonymity of privacy cases. The public and the media need to know what type of cases are taking place in the courts to assure everyone that judges are properly upholding the right to freedom of expression and the principle of open justice.

In that sense, the hysteria of recent months was unsurprising. People simply didn’t know the extent of the superinjunction problem. A centralised secure database, as now recommended by the committee, would help assuage those concerns.

Of course, justice sometimes requires a degree of secrecy, but the media must know why. It was reassuring, then, to hear Neuberger say: “… when it [secrecy] is ordered, the facts of the case and the reason for secrecy should be explained, as far as possible, in an openly available judgment”.

The media and public need to know what the orders are – as was forbidden in the case of Trafigura – and the committee’s recommendations emphasise the important balance between freedom of expression and open justice, and an individual’s right to confidentiality and privacy.

Privacy injunction hearings: not ‘super’ but anonymous

In Journalism, Law on April 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm

By Judith Townend

This week I helped the Inforrm blog put together a list of privacy injunction hearings, to contribute to the debate about super and anonymous injunctions. Versions of the post have appeared on the BBC College of Journalism and the Italian-English Media Laws site. Or see below…

Limited information is available about privacy injunction hearings in British courts but sometimes the press cries ‘super injunction’ when it’s simply not.

A super injunction is where its very existence cannot be reported – as in the cases involving Trafigura (2009) and Terry (2010). As media lawyer Mark Thomson explained in a footnote on the Inforrm media law blog last year: “The ‘super injunction’ part of the order is the restraint on publication of the existence of the proceeding.”

So the recent case of ZAM v CFW, despite media reports to the contrary, did not involve a super injunction – as freelance lawyer and former Guardian readers’ editor Siobhain Butterworth confirms in an article here.

Instead, it was an order in which the names were anonymised – hence the mysterious ZAM and CFW – but the media could report that the injunction existed and the judgment was publicly available online.

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