Privacy and Injunctions Committee Reports
The Joint Select Committee on Privacy and Injunctions has now reported. It is worth reading through the report if you are interested in these issues. It also reports that I provided private evidence to the committee. I am not permitted by parliamentary rules to reveal what the evidence was that I provided. However, I can quote from the report (also see link). These parts of the report were unanimously agreed by the committee (in that there was no proposal to amend them not votes against them being added to the report). 230. We regard freedom of speech in Parliament as a fundamental constitutional principle. Over the last couple of years a few members have revealed in Parliament information covered by injunctions. We have considered carefully proposals for each House to instigate procedures to prevent members from revealing information subject to privacy injunctions. The threshold for restricting what members can say during parliamentary proceedings should be high. We do not believe that the threshold has yet been crossed.
231. If the revelation of injuncted information becomes more commonplace, if injunctions are being breached gratuitously, or if there is evidence that parliamentarians are routinely being "fed" injuncted material with the intention of it being revealed in Parliament, then we recommend that the Procedure Committees in each House should examine the proposals made to us for new restrictions with a view to implementing them.
Various people have criticised me for what I have said in parliament. However, what I said was not against the law or parliament and importantly the committee unanimously has concluded that as yet there is no need for such a rule to prevent me doing what I believe I was right to do.
As far as the report as a whole is concerned 7 members voted against the report 10 members voted for it. Looking at the pattern of votes it appears that the opposition are generally unhappy with the restrictions on freedom of speech argued for in the report.
A division of 10 to 7 is a relatively close vote. This would imply that any parliamentary vote could go completely differently.
Beyond the issue of the law of parliament, I was pleased to see that the committee supports my view on paragraph 69 that there are injunctions that go too far in a narrow sense. More progress is needed on this, however. (See my speech in Berlin).
What I am worried about, however, is the dangers of moving away from legal certainty. People generally need legal certainty. The risk of exemplary damages for uncertain privacy breaches would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. I don't think that trying to regulate bloggers is a good idea. It is good that the committee recommends controls on costs in legal actions, but overall a lot more work is needed to get the balance right. Otherwise simply the media will not report marginal issues because of commercial pressures.
Generally secrecy benefits the rich and powerful. The committee has come down on the side of secrecy rather than freedom of expression.