Campaigners for reform of Britain's privacy laws have expressed hope that Andrew Marr's dramatic volte-face yesterday over an injunction that he had taken out to prevent the reporting of his extra-marital affair would compel judges to hesitate before granting further gagging orders. Meanwhile lawyers said that injunctions obtained by other celebrities could now be tested in the courts.
The BBC presenter admitted to being "embarrassed" and "uneasy" after hiding behind an injunction over the reporting of his affair with a journalist with whom he believed he had fathered a child. "I did not come into journalism to go around gagging journalists," he said to the Daily Mail. Mr Marr said in an interview that he thought the granting of injunctions "seems to be running out of control".
Index on Censorship – fighting what it sees as a growing threat to press freedom in the form of the use of injunctions – said it hoped that the Marr case would help to change public opinion on the issue. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, is due to report next month on the use of injunctions and super-injunctions (which ban the reporting of the existence of an injunction) having headed a committee that has been examining the matter for a year.
Padraig Reidy, news editor at Index on Censorship, said: "[The Marr case] has drawn a lot of attention to the culture of privacy emerging in the courts. For someone as prominent and respected as Andrew Marr to not just say he was abandoning his own super-injunction but say that he felt there was too much of a culture of privacy in the courts does suggest that we may see a shift in public opinion towards the view that injunctions are overused and unfair."
Keith Mathieson, a media lawyer, said the Marr injunction had been granted three years ago and thatother older injunctions might now be tested by the media. "I suspect that there are some older injunctions that are in much stricter terms than injunctions granted in the last few months," he said. "The Andrew Marr case might prompt a reconsideration [by the media] of whether those injunctions should be revisited."
There are believed to be about 30 gagging orders in existence and in the past few days they have been granted to a married man in the entertainment industry and a Premier League footballer. Last week David Cameron entered the debate by saying he was "a little uneasy" about the actions of the courts. "What's happening here is that the judges are using the European Convention on Human Rights to deliver a sort of privacy law without Parliament saying so," he said.
The Ministry of Justice says it is unable to put a figure on the number of current injunctions and has instructed its chief statistician to identify a method of collating reliable data. After the Prime Minister's comments, the ministry said it "recognises the importance" of balancing the right to freedom of expression against the individual's right to privacy. "The Government's proposed reforms of the law of defamation are one aspect of this balancing process. Another is the Master of the Rolls's Committee to examine the use of super-injunctions and other issues relating to injunctions which bind the press."
Lord Lester, another prominent campaigner for press freedom, said he hoped the Master of the Rolls's report would give an indication that the Human Rights Act was intended to give priority to freedom of speech and that courts should reflect this when considering the granting of injunctions. But the leading media silk Hugh Tomlinson QC said he believed that Mr Cameron's comments were "regrettably uninformed" and should not have any impact on the report. Mr Tomlinson, who acted for Mr Marr, said yesterday's events should not have an impact on the future granting of injunctions. "The big picture is that there has been little change for a number of years," he said. "Some newspapers have realised it's more interesting to talk about what they cannot talk about than the story itself. There are no more injunctions now than there were a year ago or two years ago."
Mr Tomlinson, a prominent contributor to the blog site Inforrm (The International Forum for Responsible Media), said that in most cases the media did not oppose the injunctions.
Since the start of this year, about 16 fresh injunctions have been granted, five of them by Mr Justice Eady, who has become a target for a section of the press that suspects he is creating a privacy law "by the back door".
* Andrew Marr yesterday came clean about gagging order to keep affair secret.
* A leading sportsman won a gagging order after learning The Sun planned to publish a story he had cheated on his partner with two women. A judge said his private life could be 'unlawfully exposed'.
* A prominent married actor obtained an injunction two weeks ago to prevent a woman, who was speaking to newspapers about their sexual encounters, from naming him.
* A married public figure said revealing his infidelity would be 'very distressing' for his family. A judge agreed it would breach his rights after hearing the woman was demanding 'hush money'.
* A married football manager gained an injunction banning a husband revealing his alleged affair with the man's wife. The manager argued for privacy because he was trying to rebuild his life.
* A high-profile television presenter won an injunction to stop his ex-wife writing about their relationship and about claims they had a sexual affair after he marriedagain. Neither may be identified.
* A top footballer won an injunction preventing the reporting of claims of a 'sexual liaison, encounter or relationship' with an international female sports star, banning publication of 'private or personal photographs'.
* A world-famous married sportsman obtained a gagging order preventing publication of any suggestions that he had had an extra-marital affair with a woman.
* A high-profile figure, associated with the alternative vote campaign, was granted an order preventing disclosure of details of his sex life, as protecting his 'rights and interests' outweighed 'any public interest in reporting the proceedings'.
* A man was granted an injunction in a 'straightforward... blackmail case' involving intimate photographs. The defendants agreed not to publish, but the judge said there was 'clear risk' of that and upheld the gagging order.
MP names names in House of Commons
John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who has campaigned against super-injunctions, used parliamentary privilege yesterday to identify a woman who was threatened with jail for speaking at a public meeting he organised in the House of Commons last month.
The meeting, in a Commons committee room, discussed family courts, which have extensive powers to ban publicity in cases involving children. The MP learnt later that a woman who spoke had received a summons. He told MPs: "Vicky Haigh, a horse trainer and previously a jockey, was the subject of an attempt by Doncaster council to imprison her for speaking at a meeting in Parliament." He was warned not to say any more by the Speaker, John Bercow, who promised to speak to him in private.