LONDON (Reuters) - A British politician defied a court order on Monday by identifying Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs as the soccer star fighting a legal battle to prevent newspapers from publishing allegations of an affair.
The release of Giggs’ name will be seen as a victory for the media over celebrities and their lawyers after an increasingly farcical game of cat-and-mouse that prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to promise a review of the country’s privacy laws.
For weeks, British media have been fighting the growing use by the rich and famous of “super injunctions” — English court orders which prevent publication of unwelcome stories and prohibit journalists from even reporting that a ban is in place.
A newspaper in Scotland, which has its own legal system, ran a thinly disguised photograph of Giggs on Sunday over an article calling it “unsustainable” to bar reporters from naming the man identified in hundreds of Twitter postings as one of the celebrities using court orders to stifle sex scandals.
“With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it’s obviously impracticable to imprison them all,” Liberal Democrat politician John Hemming said in parliament.
Hemming, who has campaigned for press freedom, used parliamentary privilege — which allows parliamentarians to raise controversial legal issues without fear of prosecution — to name the player with impunity.
Asserting the independence of the judiciary, the High Court in London later again turned down a request from the Sun newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, to formally lift the bar on naming the player.
Explaining his decision, senior judge Michael Tugendhat noted the law of privacy was also concerned with intrusion and harassment.
Giggs, a Welsh international, has played for English champions Manchester United for two decades and is one of the best known soccer players in the country.
Aged 37, he is married with two children, and has an image as one of the sport’s gentlemen.
Lawyers representing the player had asked U.S.-based Twitter via a London court for information about the users of the messaging website who published details of his private life.
Hemming said this was a step too far.
“If you are going to have an expensive firm of lawyers chasing down ordinary people, with a view to threatening them with a jail sentence because they have gossiped about a footballer, that is fundamentally wrong,” he told BBC TV.
English newspapers have responded to bans taken out by a number of celebrities, including other sports stars and actors, by making references to them in gossip columns in the knowledge that readers, having read up on the Internet, will spot the intention behind the apparently innocent stories.
Lawyer Roderick Dadak said the case showed how hard it was to regulate online gossip.
“It has drawn the attention of all, the judiciary and parliament, to the fact that the Internet is pretty much uncontrollable,” Dadak of media firm Lewis Silkin told Reuters.
“Anyone can post whatever they want out of the jurisdiction and there is nothing you can do about it,” he added.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve announced on Monday that a parliamentary committee would study the issues raised in what has turned into a clash between politicians and the judiciary.
Cameron, in a television interview, said earlier: “It is rather unsustainable, this situation, where newspapers can’t print something that everyone else is clearly talking about.
“The danger is that (court) judgments are effectively writing a sort of new law, which is what parliament is meant to do.”
Politicians have also used parliamentary privilege to disclose that former Royal Bank of Scotland head Fred Goodwin had won a gagging order. Goodwin came under fire for taking a generous pension after his bank had to be rescued by the state.
Editing by Louise Ireland and Janet Lawrence