A wealthy financier has won a legal first by being granted anonymity in a libel case. In addition, it is the first that the High Court has granted a superinjunction for a libel case.
The financier, known as “Mr Z”, sought the superinjunction to prevent the details of the court proceedings from becoming public. He is suing his family for libel over allegations made in the course of a family dispute over a multimillion pound family trust. The court orders that the family’s identity must remain secret as well.
Injunctions are not uncommon in defamation cases; the court will grant one in order to prevent the allegedly libellous material from being repeated until the case is resolved.
However, superinjunctions have so far only been used for privacy cases when a kiss-and-tall story is threatened or breach of confidence cases. They are not granted lightly by the court; however, there is considerable concern amongst freedom of speech campaigners that they are becoming more readily available to wealthy and prominent litigants.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge who granted Mr Z the superinjunction, is also heading a special legal committee looking into the use of superinjunctions. The committee’s report is expected in April 2011.
Soon after Mr Justice Tugendhat delivered his ruling, allegations about Mr Z appeared on the web. The allegations were posted in blog form by a blogger supposedly from Nigeria. The superinjunction is such that newspapers in this country cannot print details about where to find the allegations online.
The blogger accused Mr Z of misappropriating money from the family trust and a sexual offence.
People in other countries can still discuss the allegations and circulate them.
Mr Z’s lawyer, Richard Spearman, told the High Court that a superinjunction granting anonymity was necessary because if Mr Z’s identity was made known, widespread speculation about the alleged libel would follow.
Gavin Millar QC, a media specialist, said about superinjunctions: “Now they are being used not only to protect supposed privacy, but libel too.” He added: “Courts are increasingly granting anonymity to claimants where withholding details of evidence used to be regarded as sufficient. This case seems to be more of the same. Open justice is suffering.”