Empire Television Holdings (a firm)
This application for an urgent injunction was heard today before Mr Justice Swallow.
Stephen Swine QC (for Haddock): MayitpleasetheCourt, the applicant seeks entry into a televised debate between the leaders of the two major political parties. The respondent proposes to host the debate on its television network. It refuses to let Mr Haddock, gentleman and some-time political candidate, join the candidates on stage. There is precedent for the Court to order his inclusion in the Dunne and Anderton and Craig matters.
His Honour: But not recently.
Swine QC: It is true the Court’s door has been resolutely shut to the prospect of late. But the point I would endeavour to make to your Honour is that it has not always been so. For example, without the Court’s involvement the country would have seen far less of Mr Craig.
His Honour: A mistake her Majesty’s judges have continued to make.
Swine QC: Just so, your Honour. Though, if your Honour will permit me, the point for which I was reaching is that Mr Haddock is as entitled as anyone to share his political views as anyone in this country. To exclude him from the debate is tantamount to saying that his beliefs are less important than another person’s merely because she happens to lead a political party.
His Honour: Are you saying Mr Haddock does not lead a political party?
Swine QC: In point of fact, no, your Honour. And nor is he standing for election. But he is a concerned citizen.
His Honour: Concerned at what, precisely?
Swine QC: Concerned generally, your Honour. Mr Haddock’s concerns are both deep and wide-ranging. It is precisely those he wishes to share with the nation in the debate.
His Honour: And the debate is between the leaders of the two main political parties?
Swine QC: The debate is between persons with differing political opinions to inform voters at large. There is no reason why that should not be three persons instead of two. And my learned friend has not provided any.
His Honour: I think you draw rather a long bow, Mr Swine. I shall hear from your friend.
Sir Ambrose Stark-Raving QC (for Empire): This Court’s previous decisions permitting interlopers in planned debates share the common feature of illogicality in criteria for inclusion. Where a television producer has not suffered a brain explosion before setting criteria, a debate may proceed free from the intrusion of both the Court and the Haddocks of this world.
His Honour took brief time for consideration and delivered the following judgment ex tempore:
It is the right of every citizen in this country to hold and espouse whatever political beliefs they so choose. The current make-up of the House is proof positive that a lack of commonsense is no impediment to a political career. And views are acquired not only from one’s fellow passengers on the Island Bay Bus but through seeing and hearing debates of issues on television. If elections are the lifeblood of our democracy then television debates are its platelets, ensuring that clots make the occasional appearance.
To this Court comes Mr Albert Haddock, seeking to be included in a television debate convened by Empire Television Holdings. The debate is between the current Prime Minister and the leader of her Majesty’s loyal opposition. Mr Haddock is not standing in the general election. Nevertheless he wishes to be included, and to share his political views. I am informed from the bar that his views are neither left nor right, but breathtaking.
The focus must be on the criteria of inclusion and exclusion. Sir Ambrose for Empire submits that this Court has historically interfered with participation in debates if the criteria for inclusion are illogical. Empire propose to include the leaders of the two main political parties in the country. They are the people that may be the next Prime Minister. Mr Haddock complains of illogic. A debate is about the airing and exchange of views and what is best for the country. It is a narrow mind that thinks only two persons will give a full range of views. And Mr Haddock goes further. It is a near certainty that the leader of one party will say that what is best for the country is the particular suite of policies belonging to their party. As will the other leader. The debate become an opportunity only to repeat things voters are already likely to know from other sources of information. Restricting participation to two broken records is hardly likely to inform the populace.
I am driven to agree.
Now, it is true that Mr Haddock is not the leader of a political party. And it is true that he is not running for political office of any kind. What place could he have in a debate between persons who plausibly might be the next Prime Minister? Empire would deny him entry on that basis.
But that is to overlook present polling. We are mere days away from the date of the election. Many, many voters have already cast their ballots. When regard is had to the poll numbers (which by now must be very accurate indeed) it might be said categorically that Mr Haddock has as much chance of being the next Prime Minister as does the present leader of the opposition. He cannot be distinguished from one of the present intended-participants.
While courts across the country deny reality and spurn fact every day of the week, they may do so only in accordance with well-established criteria such as an Act of Parliament, a rule of common law, or three lunchtime sherries at the Northern Club. I am satisfied none of those apply here. There is nothing to compel departure from the plain fact that Mr Haddock has as much right to be in the debate as the leader of the opposition.
Given that, to exclude Mr Haddock would be illogical in the extreme.
What, then, remains of Empire’s argument? So far as I can see: nothing.
At this point Mr Swine QC rose and objected so strenuously that he suffered a hernia requiring immediate hospitalisation. His junior, Mr Rupert Boddington then continued the objection, to the effect that if Mr Haddock were to be included on the basis the Court had indicated there would be no grounds to deny participation to any other person wishing to be included in the debate.
The Court continued:
Mr Boddington has raised a concern that the country lacks sufficient podiums to accommodate the flood of candidates who would take part should this Court continue in the direction it is heading.
That may be so, but as courts wiser than this one have said: “Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Justice must take its normal course, even in abnormal times.”
There will be a mandatory injunction requiring the inclusion of Mr Haddock.