Last March, when Sir Fred, as he is referred to here -- he was knighted by the Queen in 2004 for his services to banking -- got wind that a newspaper was going to write about the affair, he went to court and got an injunction barring it from doing so.
The injunction not only prohibited any reporting about the relationship. It barred any reporting that Goodwin had sought an injunction. The media could not even report that a "banker" had sought an injunction. He was referred to in court papers as MNB.
Let me repeat, to be sure you understand this: The media could not even report that Sir Fred, or a "banker," had sought an injunction.
His case is by no means unique. Judges have issued more than 80 "gagging" orders in the last six years and more than 18 already this year, according to an investigation by The Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper found that the injunctions were sought by nine footballers (we call them soccer players), nine actors, six businessmen and women, a civil servant, and a member of parliament. They were usually sought to hide sexual indiscretions.
Lawyers representing clients seeking injunctions argue that they are necessary to protect an individual's right to privacy, a right embedded in the European Union's human-rights law. Many judges agree.
Perhaps the most troubling case didn't involve sex, privacy, or an individual, but toxic waste and an oil trading company, Trafigura. When The Guardian newspaper was about to publish an internal company report saying that the company was dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast, Trafigura went to court and got a super injunction prohibiting any mention of the report or its contents. The company was identified as RJW and SJW.
A few weeks later, during an open session, a member of parliament asked about the injunction obtained by Trafigura "on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast."
The Guardian was prohibited from reporting on this. The editors and reporters faced heavy fines and imprisonment if they even named the member of parliament who asked the question, let alone what he asked.
Enter Twitter. As he was leaving his office, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, tweeted: "Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons."
The "Twittersphere" went into meltdown. Fewer than 18 hours later, "Trafafigura" was one of the most searched terms in Europe, Rusbridger later wrote. (For what an injunction reads like, see The Guardian's "Trafigura: anatomy of a super-injunction," 20 October, 2009).
Defeated, the company agreed to a lifting of the injunction.
Fred Goodwin's affair came to light last week when a member of the House of Lords stood up and said:
Every taxpayer has a direct public interest in the events leading up to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland. So how can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?" Lord Stoneham said in the Lords chamber. "If true, it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would be allowed to know.
(The FSA is responsible for the regulation of the financial services industry).