Thursday, March 31, 2011
Why are Britain's judges covering up the sleazy behaviour of public figures?
Let us imagine the chief executive of a vast and profitable company that spirals hopelessly into debt and has to be rescued by the Government at enormous expense to the taxpayer.
The man, who happens to be married, leaves his job in disgrace. Later it is learnt that while his enterprise was slowly imploding he was carrying on an affair with a female member of his staff. A newspaper wants to publish this information, but is forbidden to do so by a judge.
The judge interprets Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention (which upholds the right to privacy) in favour of the former chief executive. Some might think it is significant that the businessman was involved in an extra-marital relationship when his company was going pear-shaped, but the judge sees no public interest in publication.
Not only that. He imposes a so-called ‘superinjunction’ which means that no media organisation is allowed to say an order has been granted by the judge or applied for by the ex-mogul.
Is this imaginary? I am not allowed to say. The public doesn’t know because there is a new phenomenon in this country called secret justice. For years it has operated in the family courts, where superinjunctions originated. The argument was that cases had to be secret because children were involved. Now secrecy is being extended to public figures who want to protect their reputations.
Usually, though not always, sex is involved. One notorious exception was a London-based oil company called Trafigura, which had been at the centre of a toxic waste-dumping scandal in Africa. In October 2009, its law firm, Carter Ruck, obtained a superinjunction prohibiting publication that was only lifted after a Labour MP asked a question in the Commons.
Most of the 20 or so other superinjunctions believed to have been granted in the past 18 months have to do with sex. Many involve sportsmen, and at least four of them England footballers. In one case, that of the captain John Terry, a judge lifted a superinjunction because he believed that the footballer was using it not to protect his privacy but his image and sponsorship deals. The other cases remain secret.
I have little or no interest in the sexual shenanigans of England footballers, but that is hardly the point. They are role models for many young supporters. It might also be argued that some of their energies have been expended ‘playing away’, which may have conceivably contributed to England’s consistently poor performance.
Moreover, the granting of injunctions works against the interests of the innocent majority of players. Because judges do not allow the general public to know the identity of individual miscreants, footballers who are utterly blameless and loyal to their wives — there are some — may easily be mistaken for adulterers.
Other non-footballing sportsmen have also been granted superinjunctions. So have a number of more prominent public men. It is difficult to understand why this should be so. My suspicion is that judges increasingly reflect the prevailing view of our ruling class that a public figure’s sex life should always be private, however aberrant it may be.
That was the implication of the ruling by Mr Justice Eady in the landmark case three years ago involving the now former motor racing supremo Max Mosley, who unbeknown to his wife indulged in sadomasochistic orgies for 40 years, and successfully sued the News of the World for invading his privacy by writing about two of the most lurid of them.
Judges are mortal beings with their own moral values, which in this area may very well be at variance with those of most people. Some of them are emphasising the privacy aspects of Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention while underplaying Article Ten, which promotes freedom of expression. Where sex is involved, disloyalty, depravity and unkindness must remain secret, if necessary through the force of a superinjunction.
This development is disturbing on various levels. One has to do with creating false reputations. I would have much less difficulty with Mr Mosley’s activities if he had been wholly open about them. As it was, he presented himself to his colleagues and the world in general as a pretty straightforward sort of chap, when he was what many people would describe as a deviant with sadomasochistic tendencies.
When I look at an Archbishop, I want to believe that he is what he presents himself to be. The same with a Prime Minister. But because judges are preventing the Press from revealing what some public figures have done in private, our suspicions are raised about everybody, so that our trust and respect for all public figures is shaken.
More pertinently still, the judicial taste for secrecy is apt to spread. Last Sunday’s Mail on Sunday revealed that the anonymity of a public servant in court on charges believed to be connected to child-sex offences has been protected by a superinjunction. This is very sinister.
If, God forbid, we had a Prime Minister who enjoyed ‘bunga-bunga’ parties during which he had sex with under-age girls — as Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, is alleged to have done — might judges prevent the media from writing about them? Such a prospect no longer seems far-fetched.
And illicit sex, of course, often goes with drug abuse and financial corruption, as countless former cases confirm. If toxic waste-dumping allegations against Trafigura can be protected by a superinjunction, it is not hard to imagine that the financial misdoings of a captain of industry might also be out of bounds for the media, particularly if he could plead that his sexual privacy was in danger of being infringed.
The evidence that secrecy is spreading is strengthened by a story in yesterday’s newspapers about a wealthy financier being the first person ever to be granted anonymity in a libel case. ‘Mr Z’ claims to have be defamed by his relatives in a row over a multi-million-pound trust. Tellingly, he is accused not just of misappropriating funds but also of a sex offence. Mention sex, and a judge is likely to reach for a superinjunction.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, is currently chairing a committee looking into the use of superinjunctions, about which he is believed to have some misgivings. He is due to report before Easter. I wish I were more optimistic that he would produce some robust recommendations to reverse this creeping tide of secrecy.
I also strongly doubt there will be greater openness so long as Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention stays on the statute book. I can understand why the Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, should have called on newspapers to stop criticising judges in a speech on Monday, but he can hardly expect them to remain silent when the judiciary is responsible for effectively developing a privacy law and imposing secrecy in court cases — enormous changes on which Parliament has not yet spoken.
We need our own Bill of Rights — promised by David Cameron, but far from being delivered — to safeguard privacy but also the right of the Press to publish what is true, and could be argued by a reasonable man (not necessarily a judge) as being in the public interest.
The argument is not really about some England footballer who has a bit on the side with a lingerie model. It is about holding the rich and powerful — like that former chief executive I mentioned earlier — to account. One role of the Press is to ensure that public figures do not hide significant discreditable secrets. That role is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfil. With things going the way they are, it is hard not to be profoundly depressed.
Britain's anti-cuts movement has jumped the shark
The term “jumping the shark” describes the moment that a TV series becomes a parody of itself, condemning itself to irrelevance. The origin of the phrase comes from an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz jumped over a leaping shark in a surfing competition. In all likelihood, Saturday will come to be remembered as the day that the anti-cuts movement jumped the shark, parodying itself so ridiculously that it can no longer be seen as a serious political force.
Consider the speeches given to the TUC march. PJ Byrne has written a fine article on the errors within these speeches, but even on a superficial level the speeches were ridiculous. Ed Miliband’s invocation of the suffragette, US Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements only served to underline the speciousness his own cause. Where those groups had fought for freedom against government oppression, Miliband defended community centres and jobs for life in the public sector. The comparison is self-evidently ludicrous. Archbishop Cranmer's headline neatly summed it up: “Ed Miliband: I am Emmeline Pankhurst! I am Martin Luther King! I am Nelson Mandela!”
How unbecoming it was to see the British left, with its roots in honourable struggles for peace, universal suffrage and better conditions for the working poor, now little more than a mouthpiece for public sector unions. So, when did the British left stop caring about the poor and start caring about civil servants? When unions stopped representing the working poor and became a preserve of state workers. Today, only 15% of private sector workers are in a trade union, while 56% of public sector workers are (PDF source). The left can’t claim to be concerned about the poor while it's trying to protect relatively well-paid state workers from redundancy, which is a fact of life for workers in the private sector.
And, of course, there was UK Uncut's “occupation” of Fortnum & Mason and vandalizing of businesses around Piccadilly Circus. As Tim Worstall pointed out, Fortnum & Mason is owned by a charitable trust that donates about £40m every year to charity. Even the “tax avoidance” allegations against Vodafone and Boots are silly – tax avoidance is, by definition, legal. There's a good argument to be made in favour of simplifying the tax code to reduce avoidance, but to blame private companies themselves for acting lawfully is absurd. But the real point was class warfare, which is why the Ritz was also targeted. UK Uncut showed itself once again to be made of spoilt Marxist wannabes.
The campaign against the cuts was always unrealistic, but Saturday showed how much of the anti-cuts movement has lost its grip on reality altogether. The government should worry less about it, and cut faster and deeper without fear.
TSA banned from Seattle area restaurant?
Libertarian News Examiner reader Jason Gonella reported, "There is a story circulating about a restaurant that refuses to serve anyone employed by the TSA. That's a good start."
While it apparently hasn't been picked up by any credible mainstream media outlet (an oxymoron if ever there was one) it is all over the internet at places like The Consumerist and MoxNews.
(Just keep in mind the standing joke, "It's on the internet so it must be true." Translation: caveat emptor.)
Beyond the story's authenticity question, reader comments following The Consumerist article illustrate how far libertarian education still has to go.
Most of the commentary centers on questions of who can legally ban whom and whether discrimination laws that apply to "protected classes" should also apply to the TSA.
No one seems to get that a free society has no government mandated "protected classes," meaning anyone can discriminate against anyone as long as they don't initiate force, intimidation or fraud, and no government has any legitimate say in it.
Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, and all the rest is disgusting but totally free choice. And it's a matter of free choice for people – not "government" but people – to fight against it.
What if a restaurant bans gays?
With today's instant communication technology the word can spread almost instantly amongst decent, fair, moral, freedom-loving people of all persuasions to boycott and protest and shun anyone who practices such stupidity.
They can find out the restaurant's suppliers, who's carrying their advertising, who their regular customers are, and without initiating force or intimidation or fraud encourage them to stop.
And anti-gay people are free to continue to support the restaurant because they absolutely have the same freedom of choice as everyone else.
Many people will think it's not fair, but in a free society there will be no coercive government to run to. Instead of whining, the situation creates a perfect opportunity for people to launch gay-only restaurants or "everyone welcome" restaurants in direct competition with the bigots.
In a free society, the fact that a private business is "open to the public" does not make it "public property" subject to blind bureaucratic one-size-fits-all dictates.
Freedom is a true human value; the whiny emotion-driven mythology of "social justice" rammed down everyone's throats at the point of a gun is not.
Black GA Legislators Sue to Dissolve ‘Super-Majority White Cities’
Looks like California’s Marin County is not the only U.S. community that’s too white
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit Monday against the state of Georgia seeking to dissolve the city charters of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills. Further, the lawmakers, joined by civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, aim to dash any hopes of a Milton County.
The lawsuit, filed in a North Georgia U.S. District Court Monday, claims that the state circumvented the normal legislative process and set aside its own criteria when creating the “super-majority white” cities within Fulton and DeKalb counties. The result, it argues, is to dilute minority votes in those areas, violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution….
Lead attorney Jerome Lee, of Taylor Lee & Associates, said the suit is novel. “The Voting Rights Act forbids a state from doing anything that affects the voting rights of minorities, except with a permissible purpose,” he said, citing the redistricting that takes place when the census documents population shifts. “In this case, it’s different because the state actually went outside the normal redistricting process and created these cities that have no meaningful state purpose.”
According to the 2010 census, Fulton County is 44.5 percent white and 44.1 percent black. About 54 percent of DeKalb County residents are black, and 33.3 percent are white.
Sandy Springs, created in 2005, is 65 percent white and 20 percent black. Milton, formed a year later, is 76.6 percent white and 9 percent black. Johns Creek, also formed that year, is 63.5 percent white and 9.2 percent black. Chattahoochee Hills, formed in 2007, is 68.6 percent white and 28 percent black, while Dunwoody, created in 2008, is 69.8 percent white and 12.6 percent black.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.