Leaders: Once information leaks online tide can’t be turned

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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It’s all very well celebrities seeking injunctions to prevent embarrassment but the digital age makes them rather pointless

If you don’t already know the identity of the celebrity at the heart of the injunction case in England and Wales, it’s probably because you don’t care. It’s a basic instinct to be inquisitive about information being deliberately withheld from you, and that desire will have driven many online to find out who is involved in this case.

The answer can be found in a matter of minutes, despite the best attempts of the subject’s solicitors to remove from the web all stories in breach of the injunction. That attempt proved futile, with judges admitting it was a “hopeless task”.

Social media makes it virtually impossible to monitor or control the spread of information, although there remains scope for redress, as demonstrated by Lord McAlpine’s successful pursuit of those who had defamed him on Twitter with damaging comments which falsely linked him to sex abuse. The problem is that once there is a leak of information, the tide can no longer be held back, because publication extends far beyond the traditional means which could be regulated by legislation.

As well as appearing on the internet and on Twitter, the man’s identity has been published in the United States, and here in Scotland, where the interim injunction does not apply and one newspaper decided to name the man in print, although not on its website which, of course, could be accessed outside Scotland. The different laws north and south of the Border appear to provide a loophole for the Scottish press, but if the celebrity had wanted to prevent publication in Scotland, all he had to do was seek an interim interdict under separate proceedings. His advisers should have known this.

Now, as a result of Court of Appeal judges ruling that a permanent injunction could not be effective following the number of times the man has been named already, the identity of the celebrity could be known to everyone by 1pm tomorrow when publication will be permitted, unless the man takes the case to the Supreme Court. There, a ruling would be made on whether to hear the case, therefore extending the ban on reporting until a full decision is made, or to throw it out, at which point the ban would be lifted.

There is a line of argument that says this current case is rule of law versus rule of the press. It is easy to see why it has been described in this way, but the matter has gone beyond traditional boundaries. What we have now is a situation where the internet allows instant global publication by any party, which a court covering England and Wales cannot prevent.

The accusations will fly that this case undermines the so-called celebrity privacy injunction which has been with us for the best part of two decades, and that yesterday’s ruling in the Court of Appeal will prompt a major shift in privacy legislation. It might well be true that this is a pivotal moment – and the Supreme Court could rule otherwise – but yesterday’s development is more about the effects of the digital revolution than the power of the press.

Drug crimes system hit or a miss?

Evidence shows that current tactics for dealing with crimes related to possession of illegal drugs are not working. It has been proven that custodial sentences do not deter offenders who have dependency issues. So the call from the Scottish Police Federation for a rethink of the system should be taken seriously.

The current procedure for drug offences costs the taxpayer and impacts on already stretched police resources, but it isn’t solving any problems. Yes, jail the pushers, but there appears to be little, if anything, to be gained from locking up addicts.

There is no suggestion that possession of drugs should not be punished, but that there should be a better way of dealing with individuals who fall foul of the law as a result of their dependency.

Cash and effort would surely be much more wisely spent on robust treatment and education in an effort to tackle the driving force behind the behaviour. These individuals need the chance of a cure, not merely imprisonment.

Recent years have seen something of a shift in public attitude towards illegal drugs, particularly the likes of cannabis. Last year Police Scotland announced some cases involving possession of the class B drug would be treated as petty crimes. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is already consulting on proposals to outlaw short prison sentences.

It would be interesting to see the results of a new system designed with rehabilitation in mind, where offenders must take part in courses to address the error of their ways. Similar approaches have proved succesful in other areas. The right system could have far-reaching benefits.