So it's finally out in the open. Today in parliament, the Lib Dem MP John Hemming outed Ryan Giggs as the footballer at the centre of the Imogen Thomas affair superinjunction. You can watch him doing it, and the Speaker's robust* (and in my opinion correct) admonishment of him here:
Monday, 23 May 2011
It had become pretty much common knowledge for anyone with a Twitter account, or Scottish newsagent that Giggs was the culprit. So it could be argued that all Hemming was doing was bringing an unsustainable situation to a head.
I think this is wrong. Parliamentary privilege exists in order to make sure that parliament can freely speak on issues without fear of its MPs being prosecuted. There are situations where this is vital for our democracy and it should be a cherished and carefully used privilege. It should not be used to out philandering footballers who have allegedly been sleeping with former reality TV contestants.
There are various arguments about superinjunctions going on at the moment and I have some reservations about how they are currently being used. But it is not the place for a member of parliament to unilaterally decide to flout a court order under protection of this ancient parliamentary right on such a trivial matter.
Not least because the more this right is abused, the more likely it is in future to start to be eroded. I can certainly imagine if this sort of thing continues that eventually the argument will be put forward that there are certain things currently covered that need to be excluded from parliamentary privilege. I for one would not want to see that happening. It is telling that most MPs of all parties are reportedly very annoyed with Hemming. I suspect they are concerned about this too.
MPs need to make sure this debate never gets started, because who knows where it could lead. Nowhere good for our democracy I am sure.
*Incidentally, I am wondering if Bercow could have asked for Hemming's contribution of specifically naming Giggs to have been redacted from the parliamentary record and edited out of Hansard? Does anyone know if this is an option that was open to him or whether even if it was it would have opened its own can of worms?