By SAM LEITH in London
Forget the Royal Wedding, the publication of the Sunday Times Rich List and the killing of Osama bin Laden. What's really exercising the national conversation is the epidemic of "super injunctions."
The super injunction, for those lucky folk who haven't yet come across one, is a thing of dark beauty. It is a U.K. legal instrument, which, unlike the conventional injunction that simply prevents you from writing about person X, forbids you from writing about the fact that you are forbidden from writing about person X.
The super injunction, an innovation made possible by European Human Rights Law, allows person X to apply to a judge to restrain reporting of his private life in advance. Person X's dirty deeds aren't just cloaked; they're invisibility-cloaked, Harry Potter-style.
The result of all this—apart from enriching quite a few lawyers—is to cause this nation to be gripped by what can only be described as super-injunction fever. Like astrophysicists discovering that 95% of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy, gossip writers and readers of celebrity magazines have become obsessed by the idea that a similar proportion of top-level celebrity gossip is now invisible,
undetectable by conventional instruments.
Because they are granted piecemeal, no central authority even knows how many of these super injunctions exist. One newspaper's lawyer has compiled, for private reference, a two-page list of all the ones she knows about—but refuses to let colleagues see it for fear of breaching one.
The long-established class hierarchy of the U.K. is breaking down as a result.
It's nothing to do with inheritance any more. Lower class, these days, means not knowing about super injunctions; lower middle class means knowing about them but not knowing who's taken them out; upper middle class means knowing whose secrets you're not allowed to know; upper class means knowing what those secrets are and posting smug winks to others in the know on Twitter.
Liberal prigs who believe we have no right to pry into the sex lives of footballers are now to be found demanding just such a right. Everyone else simply wants to know the gossip— and wonders why certain celebrity news stories (intended as self-congratulatory winks to the already-in-the-know) make no sense.
You might as well rename Hello! magazine "Hello?," and put a series of people with bags on their heads on the front cover.
An acquaintance of mine who runs a gossip website was informed of one of these super injunctions. She got a lawyer's letter warning that—under threat of the gravest legal penalties—she was not to write about man A's affair with woman B and their resulting "love-child" C. She was mystified. Ignored it. A few days later, she wrote an item teasing some footballer or other and received a furious phone call from the lawyers. Hadn't she read the injunction?
Purple-faced with indignation, these lawyers were. How dare she! She protested, not only reasonably but truthfully, that since they hadn't included a cover letter identifying A, B and C, she had no idea who they were talking about. They retreated, muttering.
Of course, there's no surer and more expensive way of making your private or professional shame the talk of the Internet than injuncting the mainstream media.
If I were a client who had been advised to take one of these things out, I'd be looking to sack my advisers, at the very least. Because hard as the rest of us are laughing at you, they are laughing harder.
Classics (in the making)
One of the U.K.'s most distinguished literary institutions,
Penguin Classics, stands at a crossroads.
For 65 years—starting with E. V. Rieu's translation of Homer's Odyssey, in 1946—Penguin has used this imprint to bring the time-hallowed greats of world literature to a paperback readership. The cant marketing phrase "instant classic" wasn't to be countenanced.
But recently, the 1980s pop star Morrissey (lead singer of Mancunian melancholics The Smiths) told a radio program that he'd like Penguin to publish his autobiography, "but only if they published it as a Classic."
"I can't see why not," he added. Amazingly, nor can Penguin, whose spokesman has told the Independent newspaper that it "could be published as a Classic because it is a classic in the making." O tempora, o mores, as E. V. Rieu might have put it.
To return to the super injunction theme, isn't it simply awful about X and Y! Those photographs! Can you believe it? And him married to Z! You'd never have thought it to look at them, would you?
Francis X. Rocca in Rome.