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New journalist gagging orders: "excessive and unlawful secrecy"

MP claims that new gagging orders contravene the Magna Carta and oppress investigative journalism.

New gagging orders may be illegal and a contravention of the Magna Carta, according to the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who is investigating excessive court secrecy.

Hemming says that the new types of injunction are effectively "preventing journalists from speaking to people [...] without a risk of the journalist going to jail." He called it "a recipe for hiding miscarriages of justice."

The implementation of superinjunctions disallows journalists from reporting on restrictions that are in place. The new breed of hyperinjunction, recently identified by Hemming, forbids the restrictor from merely talking to their MP.

Hemming had to invoke his parlimanetary privilege to disclose this, and plans to submit "parliamentary petitions" to the justice select committee later in the year. He said: "What is clear is that almost all of the superinjunctions and hyperinjunctions have no public judgment."

"That means that they are not compliant with the rules for a fair trial. There is also the question as to whether there should be an automatic time limit on an interim order. Many cases have an interim order and no final hearing. This is clearly wrong."

"We also need to know what the costs are both for the applicant and for the media in defending these orders. It is wrong to have a system whereby people can buy the sort of justice they want. That is a contravention of clause 29 of Magna Carta 1297, which is still in force."

Public figures from bankers to footballers are increasingly using injunctions in the courts to hide their involvements and indiscretions. It is estimated that over 20 such superinjunctions have been granted over the last 18 months, though the true figure is - by its nature - unidentifiable.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.