The Hemming-Way

May 26th, 2011

The Right Honorable John Hemming is nothing if not selfless. The less charitable might have seen his decision to expose Ryan Giggs to the harsh glare of publicity as a desperate attempt at self promotion. The story in the Birmingham Post indicates that  his motives were entirely altruistic.  His actions might have prevented more than 75,000 people being sent to prison. I do wonder what would happen to our prison system if it were entirely made up of people that had outed Ryan Giggs on Twitter. I don’t think overall prison literacy levels would go up, but there would be many more pictures of cats.

John is no stranger to publicity, the story about the kitten goes without saying, his disastrous interventions in the family court are well documented and his partial success in visiting space might make you think of him as a comedy politician. Now we can see that his jokey persona actually hides  a deep concern for the welfare of Giles Coren.

I’m a bit agnostic about the recent media feeding frenzy around injunctions. Obviously not so agnostic that I just ignored it all, no, I’ve made it all the way upstairs to write this. I think that if Ryan Giggs asked for an injunction and a court decided that, according to the law, he is entitled to one then fair enough. If we have a legal function, that is sanctioned by Parliament, then we shouldn’t just ignore it. The issue around the Trafigura case seemed a little different as a company dumping toxic waste is of a whole different scale to Giggs playing away from home (I do mean having an affair there rather than the conventional application). I realise that the principle is pretty well exactly the same but there is an underlying level of hypocrisy in most things I write.

I am puzzled by one contradiction in the Post story; John Hemming told the Post that he made his Parliamentary revelation in order to protect the innocent. He added that he doesn’t think other people should make such public pronouncements but should leave it to MPs. This either implies that he can do this due to Parliamentary privilege or that he has another more secret MP power. The rush of mainstream news sources to report Giggs’ name, after Hemming said it in Parliament, indicates that most people  seem to believe that it was still subject to an injunction.

John goes on to say that he wasn’t actually covered by Parliamentary privilege as the terms of the injunction had been so damaged by widespread usage that he couldn’t have been prosecuted. I’m not sure you can have it both ways, you’ve either made a constitutionally shakey swipe at the establishment or a very successful bit of grandstanding.

As said before, John’s grasp of legal matters isn’t great, if I can quote  Mr Justice Wall :-

‘My judgment is that his self-imposed role as a critic of the family justice system is gravely damaged…. Speaking for myself I will not be persuaded to take seriously any criticism made by him in the future unless it is corroborated by reliable, independent evidence.’

The important thing about this is that the courts are performing the will of Parliament through the law that has been handed down to them. If people are concerned about injunctions being used unfairly, or even to repress free speech, then we need MPs to pass laws to stop this happening. An MP simply flouting the law is basically a waste of time that could be used more productively to change the law.

There have been deep constitutional implications of John’s actions. You can still get an injunction to protect your privacy, if you can persuade a court it meets the basic legal rules as exist in our constitution. The difference now is that it is only enforceable if John Hemming MP agrees with it. Charitably John has reduced the economic burden of this change in the law as he doesn’t need to know any detail of the case, no,  he will base his decision to expose you in public based on………  nobody knows what the criteria are.

Exciting isn’t it?




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