Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said he is “not persuaded” that there needs to be a public interest defence to protect journalists who fall foul of the Bribery Act by paying for stories.
Sun managing editor Richard Caseby told the Justice Secretary, who was speaking at the Society of Editors Conference, that a reporter at the paper had been suspended on full pay after being arrested on suspicion of making illegal payments. Although he did not name the individual – that reporter is understood to be Jamie Pyatt who was arrested on 4 November.
He also repeated the point he made earlier in the day that the first prosecution under the new Bribery Act, of a court official, came about after a Sun sting which technically breached the act because it involved a payment.
Clarke said: “Some stories are obtained by telephone hacking, some by blagging, some by blackmail and sme by bribery. They are all illegal. We are all subject to the rule of law and that should be enforced.”
He added: “Prosecutions will only be brought under the Bribery Act if there is a public interest in bringing the prosecution. It is true with all prosecutions.
“The prosecution will be at the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Head of the Serious Fraud Office that it is in the public interest to bring that prosecution.”
Clarke said he could not imagine the DPP sanctioning such a prosecution because a jury would probably acquit in such circumstances and if not a judge would opt for a conditional discharge.
Responding to the suggestion that being arrested, even if later acquitted, cold ruin a reporter’s career – and lead to them being suspended, as has been the case at The Sun, Clarke said: “I am surprised you suspended him, with respect. We are all subject to the rule of law, if somebody pays a bribe it is a crime.
“We didn’t invent that law, all we did was bring it up to date. There has never been a public interest defence for bribery. Your journalist could have been arrested for bribery any time in the last 100 years.”