A war of words ...

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster central London viewed from across the River Thames, Friday 6 May 2005. After British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labour won a record third term in office. See PA Story POLL Blair. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Parsons/PA' LODDON / VIEW
The Houses of Parliament in Westminster central London viewed from across the River Thames, Friday 6 May 2005. After British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labour won a record third term in office. See PA Story POLL Blair. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: Andrew Parsons/PA' LODDON / VIEW
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WHEN a community is under-threat and needs defending, people often look no further than their local MP.

As the voice of the people, their job is to stand up and speak out for their own constituents.

But Members of Parliament now have their own battle on their hands; fighting a war of words against the country’s top judges, who seem hell-bent on dictating to MPs what they are and aren’t allowed to say.

The most senior judge in England and Wales has appeared to criticise MPs and peers who use parliamentary privilege to breach privacy injunctions.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, questioned whether it was “a good idea” for politicians to be “flouting a court order” just because they disagree with it.

He said: “It is, of course, wonderful for you if a Member of Parliament stands up in Parliament and says something which in effect means an order of the court on anonymity is breached.

“But you do need to think, do you not, whether it’s a very good idea for our law makers to be flouting a court order just because they disagree with a court order, or for that matter, because they disagree with the law of privacy which Parliament has created.

“It’s a very serious issue in my view.

“There has never been any question, in any of these orders, not in any single one of them, of the court challenging the sovereignty of Parliament.

“That’s not the issue. We are following the law, as best we understand it, at the level of the judiciary where the issues have been canvassed.”

But MPs haven’t taken kindly to the warning from judges not to break super injunctions with parliamentary privilege – a tool which they can use to raise issues affecting their constituents.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden believes the Prime Minister David Cameron needs to call a meeting with the leaders of other parties and speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords to review the whole situation.

He said: “There are two issues here – the issue about the balance between privacy laws and the media being able to talk about things, especially if people’s private lives are being talked about and there is no public interest.

“There is also an issue of the media not being gagged by the judiciary.

“The Prime Minister, with the leaders of the other parties and the speakers of both Houses, need to work out a way we can protect people’s privacy without these super-injunctions which are clumsy and ineffective.

“This may mean a new ruling – it is going to have to be done quickly but thoughtfully.

“MPs need to be thoughtful about how they use parliamentary privilege but judges should also be careful. We fought a civil war 350 years ago about this.

“The ability of an MP to say things without being sued, particularly if they are in defence of their constituents, is very important – but they have to be thoughtful in making sure there is sufficient public interest. That’s what it is there for – being able to stand up for your constituents.”

Despite the super-injunction clampdown on TV, radio and newspapers, the rich and famous involved are routinely named on internet blogs and social media sites.

MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Eric Ollerenshaw, said any review needs to take new media such as social networking sites into account.

He said: “This whole situation seems to be getting into a right old mess.

“We need to have a review of what is going on, we need to review the situation of the super-injunctions – we need to look at everything, taking into account the new media.

“Parliamentary freedom has got to be exercised with some degree of responsibility.

“We have got to protect parliamentary freedom and people’s private lives – there needs to be a balance.”

And Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, said: “In my year of being in Parliament, I haven’t used parliamentary privilege, but if for any reason I did, that would be my decision and a judge would have no bearing on anything I chose to say in Parliament.

“It’s important that judges know that if we choose to say something in the public interest and we plan to use parliamentary privilege, as a member of Parliament that is our call – and it is not a judge’s recourse.

“The overwhelming majority of judges understand the role of Parliament and parliamentary privilege but the one or two that choose not to, it’s about time that they familiarise themselves wit the conventions of Erskine May (the authoritative work on parliamentary procedure).”

The key is retaining the balance, according to Sean Gibbs from Blackpool-based Napthens solicitors.

He said: “There is an argument for freedom of speech but the main thing is maintaining that balance between the Government which makes decisions, Parliament which deals with legislation and the judiciary which enforces.”