Sir Shred’s threadbare win in the courts

March 13, 2011

On what spurious legal grounds has Sir Fred Goodwin persuaded some mentally bewildered British judge that he may no longer be referred to as a banker? We may not know, we may not even discuss: such is the all-encompassing gagging power of the superinjunction.

Some say that The News of the World was about to blow the gaffe on his private life. If so, I am greatly surprised that the former financial shredder has a private life worth dissecting, given his celebrated 24/7 dedication to work. I can only imagine that mere sight of the word “banker” attached to his name in the newspapers is enough to provoke a trauma so profound and inconsolable among other members of his family that it may be deemed an invasion of their privacy.

However, I digress. Little remarked so far is Sir Fred’s stupendous contribution to legal history. He is the first non-celebrity (excluding Trafigura, a corporate entity – albeit one of surprising sentience) to be granted such an injunction, which opens the floodgates to all sorts of hitherto unexplored avenues of advantage – some conceivably relevant to the marketing community.

Typically, a superinjunction comes about when a celeb of apparently unimpeachable public deportment (such as Tiger Woods) finds his or her reputation is about to be besmirched by irresponsible journalistic muckracking. The potentially ruinous effect of publication upon sponsorship earnings, combined with the anticipated hurt felt by the celeb’s family on reading the exposé, is often enough to persuade tender-minded judges – Mr Justice Eady prime among them – that the celeb’s inalienable Human Right to privacy is indeed being infringed.

Thanks to Sir Fred, the superinjunction contagion may now spread to all sorts of other commercial activity. Max Mosley could perhaps insist that the word “debauchery” be expunged from any description of his private activities over the past few years, for fear of damaging the reputation of Formula One. Likewise, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone might exercise a veto over the word “Hitler”.

But these are mere legal foothills, considering the potential for indemnifying careers against all-time marketing disasters.

Imagine how useful a bit of UK juridical tourism might have been to the Ford family if the superinjunction had existed back in 1958, as the Edsel disaster began to shape up.

Robert Goizueta, former chief executive officer of Coca-Cola, could have discovered in the superinjunction a helpful antidote to being hurtfully described as “the author of New Coke.”

And Niall Fitzgerald might have been counting his superinjunction blessings in 1995, when he presided over the introduction of Persil Power. Instead of which, he had to engage in a long and painful public relations battle to rescue his company’s reputation (and his own).

Absurd extrapolation? Well, no more than not being able to call the architect of the RBS/ABN Amro deal a banker.

PS. Are we still allowed to refer to Fred as “Sir”? I understand he was knighted in 2004 for “services to banking”.


Watch out sponsors, more sleaze is about to hit the fan

September 15, 2010

I do hope “Roo” has no more skeletons in his closet – or rather tarts in the boudoir. Because something really terrible has happened. No, not Mrs Rooney filing for divorce, though that would be terrible enough for Wayne’s remaining sponsorship deals with EA and Nike.

This is much worse, and has implications not just for adulterous Premier League footballers seeking to protect their sponsorship deals, but celebrities everywhere with peccadilloes to hide from the roving eye of the tabloid press.

And it is? Mr Justice Eady, the high court judge who has done such sterling work in shaping our libel and privacy laws these past few years, is relinquishing responsibility for defamation and privacy from next month. Oh come on, of course you’ve heard of him! The man whose judgements have put such asinine resonance into the phrase the Law is an Ass? Who makes Paul Dacre’s criticisms of him as “arrogant and amoral” seem wise and judicious? Who thought F1’s Max Moseley was perfectly entitled to carry out Kampf-themed flagellation in the privacy of his own sex parlour? Come on, where have you been? It’s all chronicled here, in an earlier post.

The point is this. Eady, whose political views evidently veer just to the left of Judge Jeffreys’, has been the celebrity’s constant friend, interceding with a sympathetic gagging order or superinjunction (can’t say a thing, anywhere, about anything) whenever their, er, vital commercial interests are threatened by the frivolous exposure of some “momentary” lapse of personal judgement.

Eady’s successor, Mr Justice Tugendhat, promises to be much less of a pushover in his interpretation of the Human Rights Act. Tugendhat it was who lifted the superinjunction brought by then Chelsea captain John Terry to muzzle media speculation about an affair with his former team mate’s ex-partner (for God’s sake). Tugendhat has raised the bar much higher for plaintiffs by insisting they prove that media coverage has affected them “substantially” before they can proceed. Watch out sponsors, lots more sleaze may be about to hit the fan.


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