First injunction specifically bans Facebook and Twitter


The first injunction specifically banning the publication of information on Facebook and Twitter was issued yesterday amid growing fears about the culture of secrecy in courts. The far-reaching order was issued in the Court of Protection in the case of a mother who wants to withdraw life support from her brain-damaged daughter. It prevents the identification of the woman, her relatives and those caring for her.
The order was granted after an anonymous Twitter user posted a list of celebrities who have allegedly obtained injunctions to hide confidential details about their private lives. Legal experts said they had never seen an injunction which specifically barred publication of information on social networking websites. The order also bars reporters from going within 164 foot (50 metres) of the woman’s care home without permission.
John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who is campaigning against the excessive use of gagging orders, said: “They are like King Canute, the tide will keep coming in no matter what they do. The problem the courts have is Twitter is not registered in the UK and is therefore outside British jurisdiction. “What they are saying is unrealistic. This is about life and death and I don’t think it’s acceptable, there is a real issue with transparency. The Court of Protection operates in a bubble – it’s out of touch with the real world.”
The new injunction was issued by Mr Justice Baker after criticism of an earlier order which barred reporters from approaching 65 people linked to the case. While the new order has limited the restriction to approaching the woman and her family, it makes specific provision for social networking websites. It bans the publication of information which could lead to the identification of the woman in “any newspaper, magazine, public computer network, internet site, social network or media including Twitter or Facebook, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite programme service”. As is standard in the Court of Protection, the daughter is referred to only by a letter – M – in order to protect her identity.
The 43-year-old was admitted to hospital in February 2003 after suffering from encephalitis, or acute swelling of the brain. She has since been in a “minimally conscious state”. Her mother has applied for “life-sustaining” treatment and medical support to be discontinued, and asked that she is instead given treatment and care to ensures she “retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end”. A full hearing to decide her future will be held in July.
In most court cases such as criminal trials, the names of the defendants and witnesses are made public although the press can be prevented from disclosing the identities of children, sexual assault victims and supergrasses through standard court orders. However in the Court of Protection, which handles the financial affairs and personal welfare of those deemed to lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, all the cases were until recently held in private.