Lord Hain has defended naming Sir Philip Green as the businessman a newspaper accused of sexual and racial harassment, saying it was the “right thing to do”.
A court injunction prevented the Daily Telegraph from identifying the retail tycoon but the peer used parliamentary privilege to name him in the Lords.
One barrister said Lord Hain’s conduct had been “completely improper”.
Sir Philip says he “categorically and wholly” denies the allegations.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable called for Sir Philip to lose his knighthood if the allegations were proved to be correct.
The Telegraph first reported on the injunction on Wednesday, saying a “leading businessman” had won a legal battle to stop the newspaper printing details of harassment claims made against him.
It says it spent eight months investigating allegations of bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment.
After he was contacted for comment in July, he and a number of senior staff applied for an injunction to stop details being published, the Telegraph said.
A High Court judge refused to grant the gagging order the following month, but Appeal Court judges ruled in Sir Philip’s favour on Tuesday this week.
The Telegraph also reported that interviews with five members of Sir Philip’s staff revealed that victims had been paid “substantial sums” in return for legal commitments not to discuss their alleged experiences.
Prime Minister Theresa May said these non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, should not silence whistle-blowers and that the government would take action to make sure employees knew their rights.
The BBC has not been able to verify the allegations contained in the Telegraph’s report.
How has Lord Hain explained his actions?
The Court of Appeal temporary order banning the naming of Sir Philip remains in force, but making his statement in the House of Lords on Thursday, Lord Hain said he “felt it was his duty” to identify the Topshop boss and it was in the public interest.
The former Neath MP said he had been contacted by someone “intimately involved in the case” and, given the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) “to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying”, he felt he should speak out.
Parliamentary privilege protects MPs or peers from being prosecuted over statements made in the Commons or Lords, and is one of the oldest rights enshrined in British law.
Speaking later on BBC Newsnight, Lord Hain denied he was undermining a decision of the courts, saying: “I considered it extremely seriously before I said it.”
“I’m not disputing judges’ responsibilities or timing or anything like that. That’s a matter for the judiciary,” he said.
“I’m just charging my function as a parliamentarian – and what concerned me about this case was wealth, and power that comes with it, and abuse.
“And that was what led me to act in the way that I did.”
Lord Hain said while there had been some criticism of his decision on social media, he had received “overwhelming support particularly from women”.
What has the reaction been?
Labour MP Jess Phillips said Lord Hain “did the right thing”, adding: “It was brave and I doubt he took the decision lightly.”
But Barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC told the BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight programme the courts were the “proper institutions” for deciding the issues raised in this case.
Mr Tomlinson, a founder of the Hacked Off press regulation campaign, said: “Parliament can’t trespass into areas of the courts and say we think the courts have got it wrong – and that’s what Lord Hain is effectively doing.”
Former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson also questioned Lord Hain’s actions, telling the BBC there had to be a very good reason for a parliamentarian to breach the decision of three senior judges who had seen the evidence.
What does Sir Philip say?
Sir Philip said in a statement on Thursday night that he would not comment on anything that happened in court or was said in Parliament.
“To the extent that it is suggested that I have been guilty of unlawful sexual or racist behaviour, I categorically and wholly deny these allegations,” he said.
Sir Philip said he and his company, Arcadia, “take accusations and grievances from employees very seriously and in the event that one is raised, it is thoroughly investigated.
“Arcadia employs more than 20,000 people and in common with many large businesses sometimes receives formal complaints from employees.
“In some cases these are settled with the agreement of all parties and their legal advisers. These settlements are confidential so I cannot comment further on them.”
Who is Sir Philip Green?
Sir Philip Green built a fortune from a retail empire that includes Topshop, BHS, Burton and Miss Selfridge.
His fall from grace came after BHS, the retail chain he sold in March 2015 for £1, went into administration leaving a £571m hole in its pension fund.
In 2016, a damning report by MPs found that Sir Philip had extracted large sums from BHS and left the business on “life support”.
There were calls for Sir Philip to lose his knighthood at the time.
He later agreed a £363m cash settlement with the Pensions Regulator to plug the gap.
Why was Lord Hain’s intervention unexpected?
People will remember back to the super-injunction stories of recent years, including the case of footballer Ryan Giggs. When he was named using parliamentary privilege, it was frowned upon.
Parliamentarians and the judiciary alike were very concerned that this privilege should not be used to undermine the rule of law.
And a great effort was made from that time to ensure that this didn’t happen again.
So the judiciary is unlikely to be pleased.
We have not got a constitutional crisis on our hands here, but we do have a really significant development in terms of the way in which parliamentary privilege is seen to be used in relation to court orders.
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