Was Lib Dem MP John Hemming right to name Ryan Giggs as superinjunction footballer?

by Stephen Tall on May 23, 2011

The media can now, openly and legitimately, report the name of the Premiership footballer alleged to have had an affair with a former reality show contestant. That the name ‘Ryan Giggs’ is public is down to Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who ‘outed’ the Manchester United star in the House of Commons this afternoon using Parliamentary privilege. As BBC News reports:

Addressing MPs, Mr Hemming said: “Mr Speaker, with about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs it is obviously impracticable to imprison them all.”

House of Commons speaker John Bercow interrupted the MP saying: “Let me just say to the honourable gentleman, I know he’s already done it, but occasions such as this are occasions for raising the issues of principle involved, not seeking to flout for whatever purpose.”

John Hemming later told the BBC why he had named Mr Giggs. “Basically when he… showed that he was going to go after relatively normal people and try and prosecute them, for gossiping about him on a matter of trivia, I think he has to be held to account for that,” he said.

Ryan Giggs was clearly very poorly advised by his lawyers to pursue Twitter and its users in the aggressive way that they did; the device backfired, and has led to the footballer being among the first public figures currently protected by a superinjunction being ‘outed’.

Yet the role of Twitter-users in this episode is questionable. There was no public interest served by News International’s typical kiss ‘n’ tell expose; the mob-handed might of tweets has simply achieved something Rupert Murdoch’s money and lawyers failed to do. Perhaps some will see that as a victory for democracy. I cannot see it as anything more than a victory for tawdry, prurient journalism of the cheapest kind (at which this country excels).

By today, anyone who wanted to know the real identity of ‘CTB’ (as Mr Giggs was known in legal circles til a few hours ago) could find the information through a quick Google search, or via Twitter. In a sense all Mr Hemming has done is make what was commonly known officially known.

Still, it is a big step to take: Parliamentary privilege exists to ensure MPs can stand up to over-mighty individuals and organisations on behalf of their constituents. It’s arguable that Mr Giggs’ lawyers curious attempt to clamp down on Twitter, and assert their client’s legal rights, qualifies for that. But it’s a grey area, and I find it hard not to regard John Hemming’s actions as, in Alistair Campbell’s words, “attention-seeking”.

Update: John Hemming has defended his reasons for naming Ryan Giggs under Parliamentary privilege on his blog here.