By Paul Goodman
Nick Clegg's statement to the Commons on Lords reform – and Chris Huhne's on carbon emission reductions (that, at any rate, is what his statement was meant to be about) are covered in our newslinks today. The Justice Secretary is in the news for other reasons – his Department plans to halve rapists' sentences under some circumstances – but it's worth reading in full what he said yesterday about superinjunctions, in reply to a question from John Whittingdale, the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
"Mr Whittingdale: Is my right hon. and learned Friend concerned about the possibility that the large number of injunctions that appear to be being granted on a routine basis suggests that the courts are paying insufficient regard to section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which was intended to protect press freedom? Given that, and given the huge speculation on the internet about the identities of those who have obtained injunctions, does he feel that the time is approaching when Parliament may need to revisit the issue?
Mr Clarke: I do not think any of us know whether the number is increasing. As far as I am aware, there have been two super-injunctions since the John Terry case, but the word “super-injunction” gets used very widely. I realise there is increasing concern, however. I personally have strong views on the secrecy of justice. We have a tradition of open justice in this country. Plainly, I believe in the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in this country, even when it is sometimes exercised provocatively, as it is supposed to be in a free country, but there are also areas where an individual is entitled to have their privacy protected. The time is certainly coming when the Government are going to have to look at this matter, although we will probably wait until we have had the report of the Master of the Rolls, who is looking rather more closely at the procedural aspects."
In reply to a question from his opposite number on Labour's benches, Sadiq Khan, Clarke said –
"As I have said, we will wait until he reports back before starting to take a proper look at the issue, but I think the Government will now have to study it and decide whether there is a case for intervening. There will never be unanimity on all these judgments, precisely because it is so difficult to balance the competing parts of the convention on human rights and the competing interests involved. There have been cases where we have certainly needed to know—such as where people are disposing of waste material by dumping it off the coast of Africa. That is easy in one direction, but in the other, every time I watch a football team I do not think I necessarily need to know about the sex life of each of the players."