How parliamentary privilege undid Philip Green
British businessman named in the House of Lords as man behind #MeToo injunction
Sir Philip Green has been named as the businessman at the centre of the British #MeToo scandal, three days after a judge granted an injunction to keep his identity secret.
The Daily Telegraph revealed on Tuesday that it had spent the past eight months investigating allegations of bullying, racial abuse and sexual harassment against the businessman, but was prevented from revealing details of five non-disclosure agreements.
The injunction, granted by Sir Terence Etherton, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, made it illegal for outlets in England and Wales to publish “the businessman’s identity or to identify the companies, as well as what he is accused of doing or how much he paid his alleged victims”, the paper reported.
The Telegraph, The Sun and iNews all reported the growing outrage at the use of use of gagging clauses to silence accusations of misconduct on their front pages yesterday, and called on MPs to invoke parliamentary privilege and reveal the name in Parliament.
In the end in was a Labour peer, Lord Hain, the former Leader of the House of Commons, who stepped forward.
Having been “contacted by an individual intimately involved in the case”, Hain told the House of Lords: “I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of this story which is clearly in the public interest.”
What is parliamentary privilege?
Parliamentary privilege grants “certain legal immunities for Members of both Houses to allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House”, according to the Houses of Parliament website.
Originally intended as a bulwark against interfering monarchs, it was enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights, which described it as a guarantee “that the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court of place out of parliament”.
More significant than monarchical meddling in the modern era, The Guardian says parliamentary privilege basically “enables politicians to speak freely in the houses of parliament without fear of being sued for defamation”.
Crucially, the media has the right to report what is said in parliament, allowing newspapers to circumnavigate the injunction.
Has parlimentary privilege been used this way before?
The most recent parallel to Hain’s decision to name Green happened in May 2011, when Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming identified footballer Ryan Giggs as the anonymous celebrity who had prevented the media from reporting details of an alleged affair using an injunction.
That year, Hemming also named former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin as having secured an injunction to prevent the publication of details of an alleged sexual relationship he had with a senior colleague.
The Independent says the Giggs scandal and a wave of other privacy controversies in 2011 “sparked calls for legal reform, with MPs and campaigners saying practices barring the media in England and Wales publishing matters reported freely in Scotland, other countries and on social media were outdated and unfair”.