Tiger Woods’s injunction against the British press has once again made the UK the laughing stock of the world when it comes to free speech. It’s remarkable that Woods and his lawyers have embarked on this self-defeating course of action.
The pragmatic case against the injunction is that in the age of the internet any gag is destined to fail on its own terms. As the humiliating experience of Trafigura and Carter-Ruck demonstrated, injunctions only succeed in drawing attention to the story the claimant is attempting to suppress.
Under the terms of the injunction (which was immediately published on the celebrity website TMZ), the New Statesman, like other titles, is banned even from discussing the nature of any material that might be subject to the court order. But that hasn’t stopped a network of anonymous bloggers from doing so.
The principled case against the injunction is that Woods lost his right to privacy by actively presenting himself as a role model. He built a $1bn brand around his image as a clean-cut, honest and virtuous individual.
“I think it’s an honour to be a role model,” he once said. “If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person’s life in a positive light, and that’s what I want to do.”
Moreover, by publicly admitting to “trangressions” (an action he now surely regrets), he gave credibility to the media’s lurid accounts of his sex life.
Woods would not have dared seek an injunction in the United States, where the First Amendment guarantees free speech. But in Britain, where Mr Justice Eady’s one-man war on free expression continues, he predictably succeeded.
In our leader last week, we warned that Britain’s draconian libel laws had made it the “destination of choice for oligarchs and plutocrats who wish to evade scrutiny and intimidate their opponents”. To that list we can now add philandering celebrities.
Jack Straw has pledged to reform the system radically and tackle the growth of “libel tourism”. After this latest embarrassment, he must act with greater haste.