If you want to understand why British newspapers have been so exercised in recent weeks by what they misleadingly refer to as "superinjunctions", read the judgment delivered on June 9 by Mr Justice Tugendhat — one of three High Court judges who specialise in media cases.
Even though Goodwin v NGN Ltd deals with matters that are intrinsically private, the 34-page judgment and many others like it were immediately published online by BAILII, a hand-to-mouth charity that all lawyers rely on but which few are willing to support.
Goodwin is, of course, Sir Fred, the former chief executive of RBS, which had to be bailed out by the taxpayer after taking over ABN Amro. NGN is News Group Newspapers, publishers of the Sun. Incidentally, those who don't like three-letter abbreviations, or TLAs as they are inevitably called, will find all this rather heavy going.
That's because the courts now assign a random TLA to any party whose anonymity they wish to protect during a court hearing. Goodwin was known only as MNB until he was named in the House of Lords on May 19 by Lord Stoneham. As Tugendhat said, the Lib Dem peer was "frustrating the purpose of the court order and thus impeding the administration of justice" by identifying MNB.
The decision given on June 9 did not directly affect Goodwin himself; it involved a former colleague at RBS with whom the banker had a sexual relationship. Although she was initially no more than a name on a confidential schedule, this colleague later became what lawyers call an interested party and was awarded her own TLA, which turned out to be VBN.
That was because Tugendhat was being asked to decide whether VBN could now be named by the Sun. NGN wanted to vary the injunction that Goodwin had obtained against NGN on March 1, a few hours after the newspaper had first approached him.
This, of course, was the injunction that was misrepresented in parliament by a Lib Dem MP and misreported by most of the media. John Hemming told the Commons on March 10 that Goodwin had "obtained a superinjunction preventing him being identified as a banker". As some of us noted at the time, what the court order had actually prevented us from reporting was that a banker had obtained an injunction banning reports of a sexual affair.