The Law Is A Farce:

30,000 Twitter users could face legal action over gag breaches

 

The attempt to use super-injunctions to gag the media in the internet age reached new levels of absurdity yesterday.

A Scottish newspaper became the first mainstream British publication to identify the Premier League footballer who is attempting to prevent discussion on Twitter about his affair with the former Big Brother star Imogen Thomas. Meanwhile it was reported that a High Court judge had referred an unidentified journalist to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, to consider a criminal prosecution for breaching a privacy injunction with a tweet about another footballer.

The move could potentially mean that criminal proceedings would be brought against 30,000 people who have broken one or other of the contested injunctions by tweeting in recent days the identities of those involved.

Yet on a day when the increasingly farcical attempts of lawyers to restrict the flow of information about their clients unravelled further, a Scottish newspaper devoted its front page to a clearly recognisable photo of one of the footballers involved. Below the picture, a caption read: "Everyone knows that this is the footballer accused of using the courts to keep allegations of a sexual affair secret. But we weren't supposed to tell you that..."

The Scottish paper's editor said he printed the picture because he did not think it was bound by the English legal injunction. However, the paper did not name the footballer in its two-page spread on privacy, and Scottish lawyers questioned whether it would be able to defend its decision in court.

"My understanding is that the injunction is not in force in Scotland," said the editor. "For it to be so, there would have been a separate application in a Scottish court. It seemed that printing the picture would help the situation we are still in and spark a debate to find a solution to it."

However Campbell Deane, of the leading Scottish libel firm Bannatyne Kirkwood France & Co, said he believed the paper was covered by the injunction and could now be referred to the Lord Advocate, who could bring charges against the paper's editor and its owners.

Mr Deane said that the 1991 ruling by the House of Lords in relation to publication of extracts by the Sunday Times of former MI5 officer Peter Wright's autobiography, Spycatcher, meant newspapers could be in contempt of an English court if they were aware of an injunction – even if they were not specifically covered by it.

Meanwhile in England, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) was attempting to establish whether or not a request had been made by the High Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat for the AGO to consider whether to issue criminal contempt proceedings against a journalist who broke the terms of an earlier injunction on Twitter by naming the footballer and making several other derogatory comments about him. That led to a flurry of other tweets naming both footballers – which by last night had risen to over 30,000. These included several high-profile users. One said: "Do Schillings [the law firm representing the footballers] plan to jail all 30,000+ Twitterers who have breached the super-injunction?"

However, sources close to the Attorney General suggested he would be highly unlikely to authorise criminal proceedings against anyone who had breached either injunction on Twitter. They said that Mr Grieve – who is a politician – would be unlikely to want to become embroiled in an increasingly farcical situation and suggested that if the footballers' lawyers wanted redress against tweeters, they should do it through the civil courts.

"Frankly this is not something we want anything to do with," they said. "At the moment we have not seen any request to consider criminal contempt proceedings but I imagine if we do they will get pretty short shrift."

In a statement Mr Grieve's office said: "As with all referrals, the Attorney General will consider the matter carefully, and take action if necessary."

Lawyers representing the two footballers declined to comment on the issue yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Guru Careers: Product Design Engineer / UX Designer

£20 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a tech savvy Product Design Engineer /...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: German speaking Account Manager / ...

Guru Careers: System Administrator / Sys Admin

£23 - 30K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a System Ad...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor