On Thursday afternoon, in a back room of
Parliament, history was made. A few MPs found themselves a backbone; they
found a way in which they could exercise their Freedom of Speech and perform
their ancient duty, drawn from the Bill of Rights 1688, of redressing the
grievances of the citizens who rely on them.
They were warned first to ‘be
I remind Members of the
importance of privilege, which we have here in Westminster Hall as in other
parts of Parliament, but Members should always exercise their rights with care,
particularly when naming individuals, and should avoid intrusion into areas that
are within the jurisdiction of the courts, particularly things that are active
before the courts.
The speaker, Mr Peter Bone, issued that warning
because he knew what was coming; he understood the careful dance that must be
performed before him.
Every single MP knows what has been going on; the
Speaker of the House knows what has been going on; David Cameron knows what has
been going on; to my personal knowledge, every single media outlet has known
what has been going on; none of them were prepared to risk the wrath of the
establishment by letting you know what has been going on. Do please Google and
see if you can find one single reference in the media yesterday or today to the
astounding events detailed in Westminster Hall on Thursday afternoon.
Mr John Hemming, MP for Yardley in Birmingham,
rose to his feet and used parliamentary privilege to list some of the secret
prisoners, the people who have lost their liberty in the UK behind closed doors;
the court orders which detail the secret injunctions – not for the benefit of
footballers or bankers, (although it was the issue of Fred Goodwin’s secret
injunction that allowed the debate to be heard), but the injunctions, not mere
‘super-injunctions’ that the media could not mention, but ‘hyper-injunctions’
which even prevented the aggrieved citizen from appealing to their MP for
Because we are allowed to speak of that which has
been in Hansard, we can today speak of the misery of those whose lives have been
turned upside down, in secret, with the added bonus of a special injunction from
the judge which prevented them even turning to their MP.
‘Secret Courts’, ‘Secret Prisoners’, Article 9 of
the Act of Rights 1689:
“the Freedome of Speech
and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned
in any Court or Place out of Parlyament.”
Overruled by our courts? Can it be true? Yes it
can! Right here, right now, under your noses. Not in some far flung ‘failed
state’, not out in the desert, but here, in Britain, in the Mother of all
Parliaments – and every MP and every media outlet knew it.
I urge you, if you do nothing else today, to read
the full transcript of that back bench committee meeting yesterday. It is
long and complex. You may find it boring in parts.
I have several hundred e-mails, some from the
very people John Hemming mentioned. I have said as much as I
could without putting my entire world at risk. I have sent them on to every
media outlet I could. Silence.
It has taken the hatred of bankers and Fred
Goodwin’s obscene pension to even obtain this debate. It took the bravery of
John Hemming to remember why he was sent to parliament by his constituents to
He spoke of the threats to constituents if they
spoke to their MP:
To say, “We will remove your
child, because you had the effrontery to raise your concerns about process with
your Member of Parliament” is a dreadful thing to do. Parliament should not
tolerate that, because it undermines the actions of Parliament.
He spoke of the self censorship of the media:
One of the freedom of speech
issues is that media organisations are generally commercial organisations, and
there gets to be a point at which it is not worth their while trying to
challenge the system and to get information out. With that, we return to the
article 9 issue, because our freedom of speech in the House is obviously on
behalf of the citizens. We need to know of grievances so that we can raise them
and talk about them publicly, so that the citizens of the UK can know. If it
costs £20,000 or £30,000 in legal fees to write an article, in most
circumstances a media organisation will just give up. The freedom of speech is
basically sold down the river, because of the costs of the legal processes.
He spoke of the vested interests of the legal
One of the problems with how
things have developed, and with all the secrecy rules, is that they seem to act
to protect not vulnerable people but those who make money out of the system.
He spoke of the Hyper-injunctions in particular –
in respect of a man wrongly imprisoned on an allegation of rape:
“upon the first and second
Respondents agreeing that they will make no further disclosure in respect of
this matter to any third party, including in particular the media and John
For the benefit of the House, can my hon. Friend clarify, in case anyone did not
notice? Is he saying that a court order was made prohibiting a constituent from
talking to him as a Member of Parliament?
Yes, he was!
The essence of it is that he
has no real choice. If he does not agree to it, the local council, of which I
used to be deputy leader, would take action to take his child into care.
A man wrongly accused of rape, was not to discuss
the matter with his MP, or the ‘authorities would take his child away from him’?
Can this really be Britain today?
He spoke of secret prisoners:
In the case I am talking
about, a large sum of money has been spent on keeping this particular girl in
the custody of the state – she is effectively a secret prisoner.
He spoke of a commercial case, still sub-judice,
which did not involve either children or vulnerable people:
When one thinks of secret
courts, one thinks of unsavoury regimes such as those in Burma, Cuba, Hungary in
the 1950s or Stalin’s Russia, but one does not think of the United Kingdom. How
can a judge feel it appropriate to make an order making it unlawful – supposedly
– to refer to the existence of proceedings?
Hemming: The person in question could actually be jailed for telling
his MP that he had been in court case No. 773. What is so sensitive about that?
In practice, even family court proceedings are not that confidential. I think
this case was in the Commercial and Admiralty court. My first question is not
just how the hell this could happen – I apologise for the non-parliamentary
language, Mr Bone. How does this happen? How many more of these cases are there?
How many secret cases do we have in this country, with people being banned from
even saying that the case exists?
All this tumbled out and more – just 24 hours
after Lord Neuberger, the current Master of the Rolls, addressed
the Judicial Studies Board thus:
“We live in a country which
is committed to the rule of law. Central to that commitment is that justice is
done in public – that what goes on in court and what the courts decide is open
to scrutiny. This is not a new fundamental principle”.
If you are chatting on Twitter today, please pass
on the link to John Hemming’s speech in Westminster Hall; it truly is more
important than anything else you were planning to say. The media are still
running scared of this matter, ‘commercial interests’ as John Hemming’s
It is up to the Blogosphere to make sure that
Hemming’s voice is not a lone forgotten whisper in a dark corner.
He’s given you the baton – now run with it. Run
for your life.