Landmark case: journalists DO have legal protection for their sources!!!

Just a quick note to the effect that on first sight (the judgement is here) the Recorder, Judge Burgess has set an interesting precedent in the Breen case. The BBC News reports “…he was satisfied that the concept of confidentiality for journalists protecting their sources is recognised in law, and specifically under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights”. Before it was assumed there was no legal protections for journalists, now, because the PSNI pushed this case to the limit, it appears they have. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, this may have profound implications for UK jurisprudence… Effectively they drove the judge into a blind alley and gave him no other reasonable way out…

Adds: In the circumstances, it’s an appropriate response to some pointedly political private press briefings from the dFM… A classic case of unintended consequences… presumably…

  • joeCanuck

    Some sense at last. Now the PSNI can divert resources to trying to catch the perps.

  • jivaro

    That information raises an interesting new point: who counts as a journalist for the purposes of the Terrorism Act or the ECHM?

    Do you have to have an NUJ card, or a job with a big news organisation etc – or do ‘citizen journalists’ count?

  • Zoon Politikon

    High Court judgments are not binding. No doubt this will be taken to the Court of Appeal or else Paisley Jnr et al will trying to use this judgment for his own ends.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, From the summary, the recorder seemed to based his decision mainly on the threat to life. As you extract from the summary, a category of journalists’ confidentiality exists but has hazy limits. Whether this ruling extends wider protection to journalists and their sources remains to be seen. The behaviour of the PSNI’s counsel beggars belief. If anyone should be in the dock, it is he.

  • We’re All Journos Now

    Saw a guy getting a slap in town last night but I’ll not tell the cops what I know.

    I asked the lad doing the slapping what was he about and he told me to “f… off”.

    So I’ve interviewed him and now I’ve written the story so the courts can’t touch me; and I feel all moral as well!

  • Must be just me but I dont understand why Suzanne Breen has a bigger constitutional or legal right to know more than me.
    Seems this case was a cause celebre without any real “cause”.
    Do “insiders” and those people who THINK they are insiders , journos, academics and those others on first name terms with the great and the good really deserve this “protection”.
    Quite properly Ms Breen is worried about her hubby and child….perhaps investigative journalism is not a good career choice.
    I look forward to reading the Guardian and Independents media pages on Monday.

  • Pete Baker

    Although in the ruling the Recorder concludes

    [33] I have therefore at this point reached conclusions as follows:

    (a) That the concept of confidentiality for journalists protecting their sources is recognised in law, and specifically under the 2000 Act and Article 10 of the Convention;

    He also notes that

    [21] The legislature clearly addressed the question of journalistic material in relation to Article 10 in various ways, but for the purposes of this application I have addressed it by the inclusion in the 2000 Act of a special procedure whereby such material can only be produced on an application to the court. However, and this mirrors the position under the Convention, such a right is not an absolute right. It is a qualified right following the wording of Article 10(2) namely that the freedom is “subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”. The paragraph in short introduces the balance between the public interest specifically referred to of the prevention of disorder or crime, with the interest of the freedom of expression including the preventing of the disclosure of information received in confidence. [added emphasis]

    [22] While the court clearly must both respect, as it does, the personal view of any journalist who appears before it in relation to information in his or her possession, and the obligation imposed on themselves by themselves reflecting any professional obligation such as contained in the Code of Practice, nevertheless the court has its obligations to carry out the balancing exercise which on occasion may well demand that the duty which the journalist believes he or she is under must give way to a public interest such as the detection and successful prosecution of a member of such a ruthless organisation prepared to carry out this and other attacks.

  • coca cola

    It is ok for journalists to withold information but if the public do it they face arrest or prosecution. This journalist and the Sunday Tribune had the oppurtunity to assist the investigation in confidence but decided to attempt to enhance their careers and grab a quick headline. They denounce the RIRA in their editorial but frustrate the investigation into the murders by witholding what the judge believed would have been of substantial value to the investigation. If the information had have been provided in confidence and the matter not brought before a court then no art 2 issues would have arisen.

  • oracle

    (25) B
    That given the objectives of this application that the materialsought would be such as would be regarded as covered by that obligation of confidentiality which Ms Breen has confirmed under oath exists in respect of her relationship with this organisation and the spokesman of this organisation


    I’ll say one thing Team Breen really are successful when it comes to legal matters
    courts/tribunals/lible ect

  • 6countyprod

    According to a MORI poll covering 19 different professions, journalism came at the bottom with less people trusting journalists than politicians. Only 19% of those polled said that they trusted journalists.

    I personally have nothing against journalists, but most seem to push their own agenda, whether it be sales, fame or whatever, lack a sense of justice and are not particularly interested in being fair and objective.

    There are of course exceptions and some are reputable and honourable, but they are few and far between.

  • 6countyprod

    Make that 18% from the most recent MORI poll

  • David Vance

    Great news – the persecution of Suzanne – politically inspired of course = has been a disgrace.

  • I dont quite understand how witholding information in respect of the Omagh bombing is a bad thing and witholding information in respect of Massarene Barracks is a good thing.

    Does this mean that if a terrorist told a journalist that a fellow journalist was to be killed….then the journalist with the info would not tell the PSNI.
    No I dont think so either.

  • Mark McGregor

    Utterly bizzare. Everyone but supporters of those denied access to a free press for decades, Provisional SF, understands and agrees with the decision. Seems for Provos if you report the wrong thing you should be silenced or a forced witness – and as we have seen here libelled. How times change.

  • Dave

    Well done to Ms Breen for upholding the principles of her profession against intense opposition from the State, and congratulations on having the correctness of her position upheld by the court. She is a diamond in the coal heap of state-subservient NI journalism.

    I am modestly reluctant to pass myself off as a canny amateur lawyer, but I did make the right call on what her defence should be on Slugger May 09: “…perhaps the best defence that Ms Breen could offer is to claim that she would be endangering her own life by providing the information. This is certainly true, and I can’t imagine any Court compelling her to comply under those circumstances.” This defence was upheld by the court (29).

    As Pete Baker points out, the right of a journalist to protect his or her sources is a qualified right that must be balanced against the public interest. Following the Ms Breen case, it’s safe to assume that a journalist now has much greater freedom from state oppression when reporting information acquired from sources who provide it under circumstances where “you know what co-operating with the PSNI means”.