Thursday, June 2, 2011

Super-Injunction: It's, Like, One Louder than a Regular Injunction

From political love children to movie star arrests, who doesn’t love a bit of trashy celebrity gossip? As it turns out, many British celebrities, who can spend upwards of £20,000-50,000 to squash would-be scandals with a super-injunction, an exceptionally strict UK gag order which keeps the requestor completely anonymous and prevents the British media from publishing details about either the salacious story...or the existence of the gag order itself.

Earlier last month, an anonymous Twitter user attracted more than 100,000 followers by leaking information about alleged scandals which had been smothered by a super-injunction. Following coverage on celeb-watch blogs like Gawker, that Twitter handle fizzled out almost as quickly as it appeared. But by the end of May, a new username seemed to take its place, and then quieted just as quickly as its list of gossip-hungry followers grew. The popularity of these two accounts illustrated the challenges of maintaining an anonymous legal remedy in the Internet age, and raised some fascinating legal questions (e.g., was every British Twitter user who “re-tweeted” the offending accusations technically in contempt of court?).

Super-injunctions are a curious phenomenon to American readers, who are accustomed to more public legal proceedings than are the norm in the United Kingdom. But the popularity of these Twitter exposés demonstrates that many British citizens find the remedy to be excessive, too. In 2010, the UK judiciary convened a Committee on Super-Injunctions to examine use of the remedy from 2005-2011 and provide recommendations on future use of anonymous court orders. The committee’s May 2011 Final Report gives valuable background on the use of super-injunctions as well as their less-strict cousin, the anonymised injunction.

If all of this has left you curious to learn more about the super-injunction or the UK’s legal system more generally, check out the resources in our research guide on English Law. The Goodson Law Library owns a number of relevant treatises, which can be located by using the subject heading feature in the Duke Libraries Catalog (for example, privacy, right of—great britain). As always, if you have questions about researching this or any other legal topic, be sure to Ask a Librarian.