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In conversation with the MP who used Parliamentary privilege to out Ryan Giggs

Posted on 28 May 2011 | 10:05am

There is only one show in town today, namely the Champions League Final, so if you will forgive the pre-match laziness, this blogpost consists merely of a cut and paste of the conversation I had with Lib Dem MP John Hemming, edited highlights of which are in The Guardian today. We didn’t actually meet, but spoke by telephone and the picture the paper used is a piece of photoshopping … why they have made it look like Mr Hemmings is trying to get his hand inside my shirt is not entirely clear, but I can assure you we have nothing to hide.

    the conversation alastair campbell john hemming giggs superinjunction

    On Monday, the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who had taken out a superinjunction. This week David Cameron announced a joint committee on privacy law, saying the current situation was “unsustainable” when tens of thousands of people on Twitter had named the footballer. Alastair Campbell, on his blog, was one of a number of people who criticised the MP. So, asks Emine Saner, why did Hemming decide to out Ryan Giggs?

    John Hemming: My concern in raising the issue was so that we wouldn’t have secret prosecutions of people like Giles Coren [the Times journalist who was identified as one of the Twitter users who had named the footballer on the social media site]. My fundamental concern was about jailing people in secret.

    Alastair Campbell: Do you seriously believe that arising out of the case of this footballer and all these people on Twitter saying who he was, that there was the remotest possibility of anybody going to jail and in secret?

    JH: The secrecy is certain, that is the way the procedures operate. I had another case earlier this year, involving Vicky Haigh [Hemming named her, using parliamentary privilege, after she was threatened with jail by Doncaster council for speaking at a meeting in parliament]. There was a case today, which involved attempting to get somebody put in jail in secret, with the identity of the parties not being known, with a hearing the press are not allowed to attend, which is exactly the same.

    AC: My point is that those who were naming the footballer were doing it in breach of an injunction. Surely your job, as a parliamentarian, is to be part of a process that sees the law is upheld and in our system we have judges who interpret the law? And yet you chose to stand up in the House of Commons and allow the tabloid press in particular to open the floodgates, for what? This is not the Trafigura case [the company took out a superinjunction banning publication of a report relating to its toxic waste dumping], we’re talking about the sex life of a footballer. I’m interested in your position as a parliamentarian and whether as a fundamental principle you accept the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

    JH: I do.

    AC: There has been a process to erode that, not out of some issue of great public interest, but because certain newspapers fear they will go to the wall unless they preserve their right to cover their front pages with stories about the sex lives of celebrities. There is no great issue of principle. All this nonsense about freedom of expression is about a certain section of our media fearing, under the influence of the internet, 24-hour news, that if they cannot get more and more of these stories they will go to the wall.

    JH: I disagree, because I see a number of the other cases where you have information that is kept out of the public domain through the use of confidentiality orders.

    AC: But why pick on this one? You must have known the impact you were going to have. Back in the days when I was a journalist there were very rare occasions when there was an injunction, but when there was, within the newspaper the lawyers would talk about it, the journalists would talk about it, we’d go home and talk to our families about it, they would talk to their friends about it. There has always been a group of people who will know about the issues underlying an injunction. All Twitter has done is accelerate the scale and speed of that. If that fundamentally changes the environment, then it’s the job of parliament to decide whether you have to bring in a new system which makes sense of it. I am instinctively opposed to the whole notion of superinjunctions. My point is that an individual who happens to be a footballer uses the law as it exists. The judge grants an injunction. All you did was use parliamentary privilege to open the floodgates on this story. He’s not the pope, he’s not a politician, he’s not the head of a corporation which is doing terrible things in Africa, he’s a footballer who appears to have had an affair.

    JH: If I hadn’t done what I did on Monday, I accept that Sky wouldn’t have just run with it as they did. We can’t say what would or wouldn’t have happened had I not spoken about the issue in the House. But I don’t think I used parliamentary privilege in the sense that I needed to have it. The story had been printed in Scotland at the weekend, it had been all over Twitter and was on Wikipedia. It was in the public domain. Even though all speeches are privileged, I did not have to make use of privilege.

    AC: Why didn’t you do it outside parliament then?

    JH: I hadn’t thought about it at the time. What was at the top of my mind was concern about secret prosecutions. People have been gossiping about a footballer and the proposal is to get their details from Twitter and get a contempt of court action against them. There is not enough guidance as to how to approach contempt of court. You have to go into a contempt-of-court action on the assumption that you can get a jail sentence of up to two years. There has to be some clarity about what is going on.

    AC: I totally agree.

    JH: But that’s not the system at the moment. I’m not talking about suing News Group, or Sky, or the BBC, we’re talking about suing individuals.

    AC: Did you have some sympathy for Ryan Giggs?

    JH: I personally think kiss-and-tell is tacky, so I have sympathy for him being on the receiving end of that.

    AC: Do you agree that the reason why some of the newspaper groups are pushing so hard on this is not about freedom of the press, it’s about their wish to be able to sell newspapers on the back of the sex lives of celebrities?

    JH: I accept that some newspapers are more inclined that way than others, but I think there is a baby-and-bathwater situation. I have spoken to people who have been on the receiving end of these secret orders — I quoted one woman in my speech who said, “the process is terrifying. For the first two months I shook and I shake now in talking about it.” This is somebody who has been through a secret hearing to do with a sex allegation and a celebrity . . . it’s comparable to the Giggs saga. In this instance, she has to be anonymous. That’s the sort of thing that is being done to people. I don’t think, as a member of parliament, when I know what’s going on, I should refuse to say anything about it.

  • Quinney

    Ally, he’s a self seeking publicist odd ball LiBdem. If he was so concerned and principled he would have said it outside parliament.

  • Holby18

    I think this MP behaved abominably.  Following his statement, I did some research regarding his continuing comment about secrecy in the Courts.  Mr Hemming’s sees himslef as the champion of those appearing before the Family Courts and the Secrecy he refers too is of interest.  He mentions a woman who was held in contempt. (Vicky Haigh).  I have researched this and it appears that the woman was issued with a Court Order to prevent her speaking about the case in public.  This would have identified the Child involved in the proceedings and the local Authority and as the father of the child had alleged abuse (which the Courts accepted) then the order seems right and was clearly made in the interests of the child. It appears that Mr Hemming may have invited this woman to A Parliamentary Group on Family Law. where she spoke about the case.  A clear breach of the Court Order and as she was involved with Doncaster Social Services not a constituent of Mr Hemming’s.

    Further, there is a High Court Judgement from the Family Division on the Web (Mr Justice Wall) involving Mr Hemmings who appeared as a friend on appeal against a child being taken into care.. The Judge stated in the Judgement that Mr Hemmings made unfounded allegations against a psychologist to support the appeal. He also made allegations that a solicitor’s file had been tampered with.  The Judgement said that Mr Hemmings had abused his position and his behaviour was not only unacceptable but shocking. 

    If it has been decided that Family courts are not open to the Media and people are imprisoned by these courts for breaching Orders imposed by this Court.  All  know that you are not permitted to share information to protect children.  Further, the majority of those sentenced in this court are perpetrators of domestic violence when they breach orders of no contact.

    And so Parliament enshrined privacy in the HR Act which are Judges are following.  If this Act offends, then it is up to Parliament to change it.  Please do not blame our Judges.  Mr Hemmings is well known for his criticism of the Family courts and Local Authorities whom we invest the power to remove children who are deemed to be at risk. All parties in these proceedings have the full benefit of legal representation and it is up to lawyers to ensure that the rights of those they represent are protected.  if they are not, the Bench intervenes – we are not in the business of denying rights to those appearing before any of our Courts.    I am quite sure that both Family Courts and Local Authority Child Care Departments are not without problems and there is a case for opening up Family Courts as long as privacy can be upheld for children and vulnerable adults. .  This does not detract from Mr Hemming’s arrogance and he has clearly broken the rule of law in pursuit of his aims.  He is also misleading fellow parliamentarians – one supported his assertion that it was wrong of a person not being able to speak to an MP.  It is not wrong if a court order is in place and the person is not your constituent.  Finally, Mr Hemmings’s has brought Parliamentary Privilege into disrepute and he has played into the hands of the Red Top Press.  Shame on him.  Just as well he is not my MP as I would set up a petition to remove him.

  • MicheleB

    I think this MP was tying to make himself some kind of popular hero in the same way Julian Assange tried.

    Let’s hope he’s got nothing in his own closet that will be exposed to us for our edification and delight as happened with JA (whose lawyer also seems to think he’s become a showbiz celebrity).

    There’s so much manipulation of us that’s happening directly because of the media’s power.

    We’re ‘told’ by NoW phone hackers that they also bought info from the Met; that seems to me to be more likely NoW phone hackers having an easy way to abuse expenses and something that will never be proven, just hang around as a nasty easy slur.

    .

  • Olli Issakainen

    Kiss-and-tell stories sold by young women to popular newspapers started to increase after Rupert Murdoch bought and reinvigorated the Sun in 1969. But British public had read about the private lives of celebrities since Lord Northcliffe launched The Daily Mail in 1896. (So it is the Mail to blame!) Sensationalism and human-interest stories had arrived. Rivals imitated it immediately.
    But Edward VIII´s affair with Wallis Simpson was kept out of headlines.
    Yet entertainment was about to supersede news in the future.
    The arrival of competition from commercial television intensified newspapers´ hunger for scandal.
    Cheque-book journalism started to flourish.
    Crime and scandal provide fun for readers. What is important, of course, still matters. But other news criterion is whether the news is interesting.
    Popular press has never understood that there is a clear distinction between the public interest and what the public is interested in. It became powerful by thinking that public figures deserve less privacy than others. Readers agreed.
    People accept role models, but they want in return the right to scrutinise their lives.
    There is now some sort of constitutional crisis between parliament and courts provoked by a footballer. Liberal Democrat John Hemming named him in the Commons.
    But this is not an attractive case for arguing for the freedom of speech. But parliament has passed the Human Rights Act. As required by section 12 of the act, judges must pay special regard to the media´s own codes of conduct.
    PCC´s code guarantees the same rights to privacy as the European convention and the HRA, unless there is a clear public interest in intrusion. The public interest includes the exposure of crime or misdemeanours.
    Is this the case with with the footballer?
    Reports on parliament are given qualified privilege, but it may not offer as much protection as the media think.
    Hansard has the protection of the 1840 Parliamentary Papers Act against legal proceedings. But most media does not get such protection because it is not published by order of parliament.
    Celebrity PR man Max Clifford believes that only 20% of the stories he has placed in his 30-year career would qualify for publication on the grounds of public interest.
    He states that there should be a clear halfway house between protecting privacy and freedom of speech. And newspapers should be forced to justify publishing stories about people´s personal lives.
    As for the footballer story, he says that there is no public interest in this at all other than circulation.

    Ps. Thanks for people sending me greetings on my birthday. And now for football!

  • Ehtch

    Well done to John Hemming in lancing this boil of hypocrisey, helped fester by our sometimes neanderthal legal system.

    But by heck, Barca were light miles ahead of Man U last night. Never seen a passing footie game played so well, and against Man U, the Premier champs. They made Man U look like Blackpool, if you get what I mean, in a nice sort of way, Blackpool fans. Fergie needs to thrown the coaching book away and start again, and aim to play next season as per Barca last night.

  • Richard

    The news manipulation which goes on by politicians (AC had  a most successful career in Downing St), sportsmen and the beautiful people, requires the press to attend puppy-like to their becon call.
    When the politicians etc and stars lose control of the stories about their excesses they deserve all they get.
    The perversity is that the great and the good even when exposed and found guily in a court, as per Lord Hanningfield and Elliot Morley this week, continue to protest their innocence.
    Would David Laws MP have received any “punishment” other than 7 days suspension for his greed if the spectre of political correctness had not protected him.

  • Nick Evans

    A claimant in a privacy case can’t bring actions for contempt of court. Only the Attorney-General can do this. Hemming really ought to know that, or at least taken the time to find out about it before effectively claiming that Giggs is seeking to jail people.

    What an individual can do, if they have suffered a “wrong” (like breach of confidentiality), is seek information from innocent parties who facilitated that wrong. So Giggs could ask Twitter to give him the details of people who posted confidential information about him. Could he realistically sue all of them for damages? Of course not. But if one or two of the tweeters happened to be from media organisations, who subsequently relied on the tweets as evidence that the information is no longer confidential, then it gets interesting.