The secrecy laws that allow celebrities to hide their involvement in sex scandals took a major leap forward yesterday in a draconian decision by Appeal judges.
They ruled that a well-known married man working in the entertainment industry who had an affair with a colleague cannot be named – to protect his children from playground bullying.
Three judges led by Lord Justice Ward said the public had no right to know about the relationship, which led to the sacking of the man's married lover.
And for the first time, Lord Justice Ward extended the reach of privacy law beyond what is published by newspapers or broadcasters to cover everyday office banter.
In remarks described by lawyers as setting a 'dangerous precedent', he said people were entitled to expect colleagues who notice their sexual affairs or hear gossip about them to keep it quiet.
This suggests that ordinary people sharing office banter are at risk of falling foul of the expanding net of judge-made privacy law.
One critical MP said if the rules set down by the judges applied across the legal system, nobody would be able to name even murderers if they claimed their notoriety would embarrass their children. The landmark judgment came in the case of a father of two, an entertainment industry figure referred to in court only as ETK, who had a six-month sexual relationship with his colleague.
He ended the relationship after his wife discovered it and then told his bosses that he would prefer not to see his mistress again, and one of them should leave their job.
His lover was said in the judgment to have been 'upset and angry' after she was sacked several months later.
The Appeal Court judges ruled that under privacy laws the figure must be protected from public exposure by a newspaper which planned to report details of the affair and its aftermath.
And they added that the man's name should be kept secret to spare his children 'the ordeal of playground ridicule'.
Yesterday's injunction is the latest in a string of controversial privacy orders being used to hide the involvement of the rich and famous in sex scandals.
In the past week alone, one injunction shielded the name of a Premier League footballer who allegedly cheated on his wife in a six-month fling with topless model Imogen Thomas, and another covered up the name of a leading actor, also married, who is said to have slept with Helen Wood, a prostitute once used by Wayne Rooney.
Privacy law, developed by judges over the past few years, has never been approved by Parliament.
It means that, for the first time in more than 100 years, newspapers, broadcasters and individuals are forbidden by law from telling the truth about people.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has launched an inquiry into the proliferation of privacy rules, said the doctrine that children must be shielded from playground bullying could be used to prevent publicity about serious criminals.
'The trial of a murderer could be declared secret on the grounds his children might suffer,' he said.
'I find it strange that an employer who takes such a discriminatory view of how employees may be treated cannot be named,' Mr Hemming added.
'Privacy law is growing and growing and growing. There seems to be no structure to it at all.'
Senior libel lawyer Niri Shan, of the Taylor Wessing firm, added: 'If work colleagues are no longer allowed to speak about what they observe, then this sets a dangerous precedent.'