Leading article: An issue of power, not privacy

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The Independent Online

If it had not been for Mr Justice Tugendhat, you would not have been able to read in this newspaper or any other the story of the English football captain's misdeeds with a colleague's partner, let alone the ensuing furore over his right to stay on in the post. But then, of course, you certainly could have – and many would have – heard all about it on the internet and Twitter.

As Justice Tugendhat commented in overturning the injunction preventing newspapers reporting the case, it was a story "in wide circulation amongst those involved in the sport in question and not just amongst those directly engaged in the sport".

The injunction should never have been granted in the first place. Justice Tugendhat's reason for overturning what he had mistakenly allowed was a narrow one, that Mr Terry's lawyers had sought to protect the footballer's commercial interests (sponsorship etc) rather than privacy. But even on privacy grounds it is hard to justify preventing publication of a story concerning a figure as high-profile as the English captain which had been so widely disseminated already. This is not a matter so much of the so-called "role model" aspect of his job – which has been greatly overplayed – as the simple realities of being a national figure. If you want to misbehave, you can hardly expect to keep it quiet.

That is the real problem with injunctions, and particularly with the superinjunction sought in this case. It's an all-embracing weapon of suppression which purportedly exists to protect the privacy in urgent cases but is in fact a reserve of those rich enough to afford the expense of pursuing them.

Privacy does pose a real problem in today's world as technology revolutionises communications. In trying to meet concerns, however, the UK Parliament and judiciary have sought to trammel the traditional media with libel and privacy laws which are now among the strictest in Europe and are used mainly by the wealthy and the powerful to protect themselves from revelation and criticism. This is not preserving the rightful privacy of the individual, it is making society less open and its public figures and corporations less accountable.