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Sunday, May 22, 2011

TV star is first to face jail over tweets after England footballer claims they breach injunction: Judge reports top journalist to Attorney-General

By Robert Verkaik

★Judge reports top journalist to Attorney General
★If convicted the writer could face two years in prison
★He had named a top footballer with a privacy injunction on Twitter

First of its kind: Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC, left, will consider a criminal prosecution against the well-known writer, who cannot be named, for breaching a privacy injunction on Twitter

A journalist on one of Britain’s most respected newspapers – who also appears on a widely-viewed BBC programme – could face a jail sentence after naming on Twitter a Premier League footballer who had taken out a privacy injunction.

In the first case of its kind, lawyers for the soccer star have persuaded a High Court judge to ask Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC to consider a criminal prosecution against the writer for breaching a privacy injunction. If Mr Grieve decides to issue contempt of court proceedings, the individual faces a prison sentence of up to two years.

The unprecedented legal action is the latest attempt by a public figure to try to curb the growing use of the internet – especially Twitter – to expose the adulterous affairs and misbehaviour of celebrities and footballers.

On Thursday, one of Britain’s leading privacy judges, Mr Justice Tugendhat, was told that an unnamed ‘someone’ had used Twitter to identify the married footballer at the centre of a scandal concerning a sexual relationship with a model.

The England footballer, known only by his court codename of TSE, instructed lawyers to ask the judge to pass the case on to the Attorney General’s office. And he agreed.

Due to the extraordinary restrictions surrounding the reporting of cases such as this, The Mail on Sunday cannot identify the journalist involved nor even provide readers with edited versions of his tweets.

It is believed that the messages were written about the player during a recent high-profile football match, which again The Mail on Sunday cannot identify due to court restrictions.

The footballers’ lawyers, libel and privacy specialists Schillings, are also representing another Premier League player who has brought a claim for Twitter to disclose the names of users who may have breached the terms of his privacy injunction to prevent details of his affair with Imogen Thomas being made public.

The San Francisco-based site has been given a week to comply with the order.

Last night the newspaper for whom the author of the messages is believed to write, said they did not think that the case related to them. But when asked whether they had been contacted by Schillings about the messages, the newspaper declined to comment.

Unprecedented: If the Attorney General decides to issue contempt of court proceedings the writer could face up to two years in prison

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said that the law officers were waiting to receive the referral from Mr Justice Tugendhat, but confirmed it would be the first judicial referral relating to the breach of a privacy injunction on a social media site.

She said: ‘As with all referrals, the Attorney General will of course consider the matter carefully, and take action if necessary. At the moment we do not think that we have any other judicial referrals for breaches of injunctions.’

When The Mail on Sunday approached the journalist at his London home yesterday, he said that he could not talk about the case.

When asked about what had been said in the High Court, he said: ‘They are going to announce what was in it sometime in the week I think.

‘Basically at this point I can’t say anything at all because it might be in contempt of court. I wouldn’t care a ****, I’d say what I think, but if it’s a possibility of me [going to prison]...

‘And there was a quote I noticed from the lawyers today, Schillings, saying, “No one’s going to go to prison over this”, but we don’t know that. Because it could be contempt of court, I think it would be stupid to say anything at all.’

At Thursday’s open hearing at the High Court the name of the individual alleged to have breached the order was not made public.

Last night lawyers said that it was inevitable that contempt proceedings would be considered against those who breach the orders of the court.

Amber Melville Brown, a leading media lawyer at Withers Worldwide, said: ‘The courts and law officers can not sit idly by and watch their orders be deliberately disobeyed.

‘These cases will test the jurisdiction of the courts and show the judges’ commitment to upholding the law.’

Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting in Court 14 of the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday, upheld the footballer’s injunction which was originally imposed the previous Friday.

Afterwards he agreed to the request of Andrew Caldecott QC, who was acting on behalf of the player and a former mistress. He said: ‘We also ask Your Lordship
to exercise his power under Order 45 of the Rules of the Supreme Court.’

Order 45 Rule 7 allows the judge to send a matter to the Attorney General rather than an individual being asked to commence committal proceedings.

‘We would ask Your Lordship to do so,’ Mr Caldecott said. ‘It relates to someone who wrote messages on a social media network site which we consider to be serious breaches of Her Ladyship Mrs Justice Sharp’s Order of 13 May 2011.’

Mr Justice Tugendhat agreed to pass on the footballer’s complaint to the Attorney General.

Last year Dominic Grieve QC said that he was committed to prosecuting breaches of contempt of court on the internet.

Why was gag inquiry left entirely to lawyers?

By Martin Delgado

The committee set up to scrutinise super-injunctions faces criticism over the fact that two members were highly paid lawyers working for firms which specialise in securing gagging orders against the Press.

In its long-awaited report, published last week, the Neuberger Committee moved to silence MPs and peers who use parliamentary privilege to defy orders laid down by the courts.

It also threatened possible prison sentences for journalists who report speeches in Parliament naming prominent figures whose identities are protected by injunctions.

The Neuberger Committee moved to silence MPs and peers who use parliamentary privilege to defy orders laid down by the courts

But the panel, under the chairmanship of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, included Alasdair Pepper of Carter-Ruck and Rod Christie-Miller from Schillings – both law firms which try to protect celebrities by ruthlessly pursuing newspapers carrying out legitimate investigations.

Among Mr Pepper’s clients are wealthy businessmen, sports stars, judges, MPs and Royals, though many of their names remain shrouded in secrecy.

Mr Christie-Miller, chief executive of Schillings, also makes a handsome living out of protecting the rich and famous from embarrassment. He battled in court on behalf of comedy duo David Walliams and Matt Lucas when a newspaper suggested their Little Britain show offended gay people.

He also represented football manager Harry Redknapp in an action against the BBC over false corruption allegations.

His combative Maserati-driving boss, Keith Schilling, has been called ‘the silencer’ because of his readiness to stop the presses, once suggesting that there were ‘too many newspapers’.

Mr Christie-Miller suffered a setback four years ago when one of his most influential clients, businessman Lord Browne of Madingley, lost a battle with The Mail on Sunday.

The BP chief executive resigned after 41 years with the oil giant after he admitted he had lied in court over how he met his former boyfriend Jeff Chevalier.

The ten-member Neuberger Committee was set up in April last year.

Unlike a more formal public inquiry or royal commission, it was seen as an ad-hoc attempt by the judiciary to clarify the law as concern mounted over the increasing use of super-injunctions.

With no specific terms of reference, its task was to examine the use of injunctions in privacy cases and the potential damage they were doing to the principle of open justice. The committee was not required to report to a minister or government department.

Following a year’s deliberation, it concluded that the use of super-injunctions had become too widespread and journalists should be allowed to attend hearings at which secrecy orders were being sought.

‘Taken overall, the effect of the report will be to clarify the court processes and to establish the framework in which such applications may be made and should be decided,’ the Judicial Communications Office said.

One leading member of the committee, Desmond Browne QC, has been involved in media law cases for more than 30 years, including acting for the Daily Mirror when it was sued by model Naomi Campbell over photographs of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

The other members of the committee were Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Mr Justice Tugendhat, barrister John Sorabji, and media lawyers Marcus Partington and Gillian Phillips.



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