British court lifts anonymity order on ex-banker

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British court lifted an anonymity order Thursday on former top banker Fred Goodwin which had blocked the media from reporting that he had obtained an injunction to hide a sexual relationship.

The High Court acted after Goodwin, the former head of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland, was identified in parliament, where a centuries-old right of privilege grants members unrestricted freedom of speech.

It marks the latest stage in an ongoing battle between the courts and the media over celebrities' efforts to hide indiscretions with super-injunctions, which ban any reporting of the indiscretion and any mention of the ban itself.

Dozens of super-injunctions have come to light in recent months, causing concern about freedom of speech in Britain.

A report into their use by Britain's second most senior judge, David Neuberger, is due on Friday.

In the latest development, Lord Ben Stoneham revealed that Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction to hide an alleged affair with a colleague, and said taxpayers who bailed out the bank in 2008 should know about it.

In March, a member of the lower House of Commons revealed the existence of Goodwin's super-injunction but gave no more details about it. In the House of Lords on Thursday, Lord Stoneham went further.

"Every taxpayer has a direct public interest in the events leading up to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland," he said.

"So how can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?

"If true, it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would be allowed to know about it."

Several hours later, after an application by News Group Newspapers, the owners of The Times and The Sun, High Court judge Michael Tungendhat agreed to lift the "super" part of Goodwin's super-injunction, removing his anonymity.

Goodwin did not oppose the decision, which does not alter the ban on publication of any details of the alleged relationship.

"The main point is that this is an injunction relating to a sexual relationship," the judge said.

"The existing order... prohibits the naming of the other person to the relationship and prohibits the publication of any details."

© 2011 AFP

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