Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The death of superinjunctions?

If you've been watching the news, you'll know that the British courts have just been comprehensively schooled in the Streisand Effect and the futility of attempting to suppress information by the internet. They've also been given a sharp lesson in parliamentary Privilege. But what of the underlying issue?

I've taken a consistent position that people's sex lives are not news. But that's a different issue from whether we should be legally forbidden from talking about them. Prior restraint is a serious business, and requires the highest justification. That justification exists in criminal cases where it is used to protect the rights of the accused, or the identity of minors. It does not seem to exist in these cases. Here, courts are granting prior restraint to protect people's reputations from the damage that would naturally result from their own actions. It smacks of privilege, of the rich and powerful abusing the courts to keep their indiscretions secret and their hypocrisies intact, of aristocrats using force of law and threats of imprisonment to stop the peasants from sniggering at them. Its absolutely unjustifiable - but so very, very British.

The courts can posture all they like. The world simply does not work like that any more. As the UK has learned this week, the internet provides a free market in legal jurisdiction, allowing such injunctions to be broken with impunity. And if court orders are as blatantly unjustified as these ones are, then that is exactly what will happen.