I get it; Philip Green is a thoroughly odious figure. Obnoxious and oozing a tacky sense of entitlement in every public appearance he makes, it’s not hard to imagine someone this grotesque subjecting his employees to the types of harassment now alleged against him.
By contrast, Peter Hain seems to be a committed and reasonably well-respected politician, making judicious use of parliamentary privilege to disclose information deemed to be in the public interest without fear of being subject to legal action against him.
The problem is that it simply isn’t Hain’s role to act as some kind of moral judge as to what is in the public interest. Had the Court of Appeal applied a sinister-sounding super-injunction, where the press is prevented from both reporting the content of allegations and from reporting the fact an injunction exists at all, then the use of parliamentary privilege would be the only channel through which to reveal information without threat of legal action. In this instance, it would be easier to argue in favour of Hain. But the reality is that the injunction granted in this case was a temporary one, designed only to give Green anonymity whilst the courts considered the arguments for naming him in the public interest from both sides.
So, intentionally or not, Hain interfered with an ongoing legal process and undermined the courts in their role of independently interpreting and applying UK law. The move is particularly hypocritical given the Labour government in which Hain was a cabinet minister was the one bent on dislodging the judiciary from parliament in the first place through the abolition of Law Lords.
There’s also a dangerous precedent at play here. The UK legal system works on the basis of presumed innocence until the accused is found guilty. In naming Green in relation to the allegations, his reputation is inevitably tarnished regardless of whether he is guilty or not. True, Green’s own standing with the British public is already so low that it’s hard to see how association with these allegations could ruin it further. But not everyone is Philip Green and injunctions exist so the reputations of individuals aren’t prematurely or mistakenly reduced to tatters. One only needs to look at the case of Cliff Richard being falsely named in connection with child sexual abuse a few years back to see the damaging consequences of such moves.
Legal process is often slow and cumbersome but impatiently trying to circumvent it seldom yields better results – and Hain should have known better.
Image: Chris McAndrew