Journalists, like lawyers, enjoy the protection of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 when police seek to take advantage of their information collecting role. Journalists and their sources enjoy additional safeguards under Article 10 of the European Convention.
Material acquired or created for the purposes of journalism is subject to special procedures which require police to apply on notice to a circuit judge in order to obtain it. If satisfied that grounds are established and various tests relating to confidentiality are met, a judge may issue a production order giving the journalist or media organisation seven days to comply. Failure to comply with a court order may be punished as a contempt of the Crown Court, subject to the protection under s.10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which shields a person from a contempt finding unless it can be established that disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice, of national security, or for the prevention of disorder or crime.
The European Court of Human Rights has consistently stressed the importance of such protections, as in the 2010 Grand Chamber decision on the Sanoma Uitgevers case. Press freedom is a pillar of any democracy, and one which we are keen to protect. We have advised and acted for many journalists and media organisations facing aggressive police investigations and applications to court for disclosure of journalistic material.
In a recent case we identified a police attempt to use RIPA powers to scrutinise phone billing in order to circumvent the journalistic material legislation. Our application to the IPT in relation to this is under scrutiny.