Blog / Feb. 3, 2010

John Terry's own-goal may benefit civil society

By Charmian Gooch, Founding Director

It's ironic that it takes the hushing of the England football captain's affair to highlight the scale of a problem that threatens campaign groups like Global Witness on a daily basis. The increasing use of injunctions and super-injunctions is a worrying trend. Bizarrely, it is only the recent failures of two such gagging orders that have brought this issue into the spot-light, and created the surreal situation where football and the dumping of toxic waste are discussed in the same breath. How many of these legal silence orders have been used in the past or are currently in force -and who they are protecting? We hope that the profile of the Terry case will provide additional support and incentive for those pushing for reform which rebalances our legal system back in favour of freedom of speech.

It is welcome news that the debate appears to be heading in the right direction. The timing of the Terry super-injunction reinforces the urgency of the Ministry of Justice's libel reform consultation, launched recently with the announcement of the Panel for the working group on libel. Global Witness is pleased to see the broad spectrum of panel members and we are confident that PEN and Index on Censorship will make a strong case for the freedom of speech that is critical for our work.

However, we are concerned by the absence from the panel of any organisations that are encountering these issues first-hand. The ability to make well-supported allegations without fear of financial ruin is imperative to Global Witness' continued capacity to highlight corruption and abuse. We fear that the lack of a voice like ours on the panel indicates that the Ministry of Justice still does not appreciate the full scope and scale of this problem. Global Witness is urging Mr Straw to consider this in his assessment of the legal system's ability to defend matters of huge public interest.