Concerns about the increasing use of super-injunctions by the wealthy to bar reporting of their activities have been raised by an MP as it emerged that Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, has obtained one.
The existence of the court order was disclosed by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, who on Thursday used parliamentary privilege to name Sir Fred as an individual who had gone to court to stop media outlets referring to his former role.
Speaking at Business Questions in the Commons, Mr Hemming said: “In a secret hearing, Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.”
Mr Hemming said MPs should be given the chance to discuss the increasing use of super-injunctions by prominent individuals.
He asked the Commons: “Will the government have a debate or a statement on the issue of freedom of speech and whether there is one law for the rich, such as Fred Goodwin, and another law for the poor?”
Sir Fred’s aggressive acquisition strategy while at the helm of Royal Bank of Scotland , including the ill-fated deal to buy part of Dutch bank ABN Amro, has been blamed for the bank’s near-collapse in late 2008.
RBS had to be bailed out by the taxpayer and is majority owned by the government. Sir Fred walked away with a £700,000-a-year pension, which was later reduced after a political storm.
Super-injunctions, which bar newspapers from identifying the applicant, have acquired increasing notoriety following a handful of high-profile lawsuits. Last year, an outcry prompted the judiciary to establish a committee – chaired by the master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger – to investigate the orders. The committee, which includes judges, lawyers and experts from the press, is expected to deliver its findings shortly.
Jo Glanville of the Index on Censorship, a campaign group, said: “There is a real concern about their use – sometimes a super-injunction has been granted by one judge and lifted by another.
“There are times when a super-injunction might be necessary but there need to be clearer guidelines so super-injunctions are not available to any celebrity who wants to prevent reporting of their private life and they should be used more sparingly.”
Super-injunctions came under the spotlight last year when a High Court judge allowed the publication of allegations about the footballer John Terry, who plays for Premier League club Chelsea.
His lawyers said he had secured a “super-injunction” after learning that the News of the World newspaper was planning to write about his private life.
However, Mr Justice Tugendhat lifted the injunction after concluding that the gagging order was largely to protect commercial deals and not justified. by “the level of gravity of the interference with the private life of the applicant”.
In 2009, a case involving Trafigura, the commodities trading group, also highlighted the issue. Newspapers had been preparing to go to the High Court to challenge a court order which had the effect of preventing reports on an MP’s question even though it had appeared on a House of Commons order paper and online.
Carter-Ruck, acting for Trafigura, later said that the lawyers had agreed to a variance of the existing order so the media could report the parliamentary question.