Judge criticises 'disruption' caused by parliaments' breach of privacy orders

Politicians' decisions to use parliamentary privilege to breach court privacy orders and name banker Sir Fred Goodwin and footballer Ryan Giggs have "disrupted the historic equilibrium" between judges and Parliament, according to a retired Court of Appeal judge.

The naming of Sir Fred in the House of Lords and Giggs in the House of Commons in May was a "simple breach of a simple constitutional principle", said Sir Stephen Sedley.

Sir Stephen, writing in the London Review of Books, also said media coverage of the law of privacy and injunctions is "chaotic and confused" and warns that the "fourth estate" is close to being a virtually unregulated "state within the state".

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"When a member of either House, protected by the privilege which prevents his being prosecuted for it, consciously breaks a High Court injunction by naming an individual who has been anonymised by court order, it suggests two possibilities. One is that he does not understand the constitution; the other is that he does and has set out to transgress it," he wrote.

"This is the seriousness of the naming of Fred Goodwin in the House of Lords and Ryan Giggs in the House of Commons as claimants who had obtained injunctions forbidding their identification. It does not have to do with limiting free speech in Parliament: it has to do with the misuse of that undoubted historic freedom."

He complained that there is no comparison between the naming of Goodwin and Giggs, and ministerial briefings against judges because the former "disrupts the historic equilibrium between the judiciary and the legislature".

He said Parliament brought the individual's right to respect for his or her private life into law with the Human Rights Act in 1998, and argues that the tabloid press do not like the fact the law recognises that celebrities have "aspects of their lives that are private".