The untold story of gagging orders

Hundreds of other reporting restrictions remain in force, and the public knows next to nothing about them
  • @cahalmilmo

The extent of court privacy injunctions in British public life and the media can be revealed today after an analysis by The Independent found that more than 333 gagging orders protecting the identities of celebrities, children and private individuals have been granted in the past five years.

As the ramifications of the naming in Parliament of footballer Ryan Giggs continued to fuel the debate over injunctions, MPs renewed calls for the Ministry of Justice to begin collating figures for the number of privacy orders being granted in Britain's courts after a senior judge warned that the absence of reliable data was undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

The secret nature of super-injunctions and other restrictive orders means that no definitive figures exist for the number of rulings currently in force in England and Wales – despite a rash of revelations which has seen a number of high-profile individuals, from the broadcaster Andrew Marr to the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin, unmasked as recipients.

An audit by The Independent has found that at least 264 orders exist which grant anonymity to children or vulnerable adults. But the figures reveal a further 69 cases where injunctions have been granted barring the publication of the names of high-profile individuals, including 28 men accused of extra-marital affairs and nine cases where convicted criminals have been granted anonymity. Courts are ready to issue gagging orders in a wide-ranging and occasionally surprising number of circumstances, including the case of a lawyer accused of possessing a quantity of hardcore pornography and an order preventing disclosure of the identity of a sex change candidate.

The data highlights the importance of anonymity orders, which concern at least six allegations of blackmail, where the victims include a Premier League footballer and a prominent aristocrat.

Orders have also been granted to at least seven major companies, including the publicly owned bank Northern Rock. The orders, some of which are permanent and some temporary, prevent publication of allegations about their commercial affairs.

The true number of anonymised injunctions is likely to be higher but the analysis highlights an alarming gap in public knowledge about the extent to which the courts are granting gagging orders. Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, has said it is "impossible to verify" the number of rulings being handed down which make it a criminal offence to publish certain information about individuals. His report into injunctions on Friday stated: "The absence of evidence has encouraged a view that an entirely secret process has developed in the civil courts, and that this is improper in principle, risks neutering press freedom to report matters of public interest and undermines the public's right to be informed of court proceedings."

A senior MP last night called on the Government to swiftly enforce the report's finding that the Ministry of Justice should start recording how many injunctions containing publicity restrictions are applied for and granted.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said: "This is something which we called for a year ago and we have yet to see this information. As a result it is very difficult to know the extent of 'privacy creep' within the courts."

The controversy is set to be raised by David Cameron and other world leaders at a summit in France tomorrow. British government sources confirmed they expected the storm surrounding the naming of Ryan Giggs to be discussed at a meeting of G8 leaders in Deauville, where Nicolas Sarkozy is pressing for tougher regulation of the internet to protect copyright and privacy, though Mr Cameron may be sceptical about how this could be applied. But a UK source said: "The mechanisms of regulation and the hurdles before you intervene are quite high."

Meanwhile, John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who named Mr Giggs, said he was aware of 10 recipients of super-injunctions amid criticism of his decision to use parliamentary privilege to reveal the footballer's identity. He said: "I think in some ways naming Ryan Giggs lances the boil. It has brought the whole issue out in the open, which is where it should be."

The untold story

The 333 gagging orders analysed by The Independent include:

* A footballer alleging blackmail after a group-sex session in a hotel was captured on mobile phone video

* A male celebrity with a disabled son

* At least four child abusers protecting their new identities

* A company accused of pollution

* A member of the public who didn't want the press to report his sex change

* A television personality who received death threats

* A woman who had a laptop containing her sex videos stolen

* A paedophile who gained an injunction prohibiting reporting of his rehabilitation trips

* A football manager who strayed

* A gambling spouse

* A betting company that obtained an injunction against disclosing information about its clients' betting

* A murderer's ex-girlfriend given a new identity – and the psychiatrist who assessed her

* A blackmailed aristocrat

* A "leading actor" who slept with Helen Wood (only she can be named)

* Tens of Premier League footballers who are family men in public but who are in reality promiscuous cheats

* A media personality who denied alcohol addiction

* A sportsman's child who is subject to court proceedings

* An actress whose laptop containing intimate photographs was stolen

* At least half a dozen since unmasked, among them the commodities trader Trafigura, Andrew Marr (who broke his own injunction), Sir Fred Goodwin, John Terry, Ryan Giggs (named in Parliament), and the News of the World's "Fake Sheikh" Mazher Mahmood (the paper tried to stop photos of him from being distributed).

* And hundreds of anonymity orders preventing the media from doing anything that would lead to the identification of children whose parents or carers are accused of murder, child abuse or other crimes.