The High Court today granted freelance journalist and terrorism expert Shiv Malik permission to challenge a “production order” obtained against him by police under anti-terror laws.
The order required the disclosure of all source material for a forthcoming book he is writing entitled Leaving Al-Qaeda: Inside the Mind of a British Jihadist, based on the experiences of Hassan Butt.
Butt is well known through television and the media for his assertions of his own past involvement with terrorist activity.
The application for the production order was made by Greater Manchester Police following references to Butt by a “Mr A”, a defendant in a forthcoming criminal trial, who must not be identified for legal reasons.
The order was granted by a judge at Manchester Crown Court on March 31 under Schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The order required Malik to produce source material for his book by 9 April and “all material” generated as a result of the project, and all information in his possession regarding the alleged terrorist activities of Hassan Butt.
Refusal to comply with the order is likely to lead to contempt of court proceedings against Malik, from Golders Green, north-west London.
Another production order requires his publishers, Constable & Robinson Ltd, to produce material by 7 April.
Today, Alex Bailin, appearing for Malik, asked two judges for permission to challenge the production order in the High Court.
He told Lord Justice Keene and Mr Justice Treacy that freedom of expression was at stake, as well as the safety of Malik and his family and his right to operate as a journalist.
Bailin said Malik’s career would be destroyed if he was forced to reveal his sources.
He said Butt himself was available for interview by the police and the production order was unnecessary.
Bailin told the court: “What is exceptional – if not unique – about this case is that the book seeks to dissuade others from involvement in terrorism.
“No such books would ever be published if the journalistic contacts of the authors were subject to production orders such as that sought here.
“Accordingly, the public interest in the order for production is not made out in this case.
“The public interest in Hussan Butt’s book more than outweighs the public interest in investigating revelations of historic criminality which it may allegedly contain, and which he has already aired in public.”
Malik has already written My Brother The Bomber about 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan.
The court was told he was a respected freelance journalist whose work regarding terrorism has been quoted with approval by Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5 and Tony McNulty, the Home Office minister with responsibility for security and counter-terrorism.
Bailin said that if requests for production orders became routine under anti-terror legislation “it would have considerable implications for British journalism”.
He said Butt had disclosed information to Malik of his past associations with al-Qaeda in a bid to dissuade others from engaging in terrorist activity.
“There is a very great significance indeed in being able to publish without state interference books that seek to dissuade others from committing terrorist offences.”
Bailin added: “We submit that the self-incrimination issues raised by this case are acute and require urgent clarification by the courts.”
Andrew Edis QC urged the court not to intervene, and said the production order was justified.
He argued that it was in the public interest that Malik be required to disclose material to the police, who were involved in investigating allegations of serious terrorist-related offences.
He said the right under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom of expression, now relied on by Malik, involved balancing rights with duties.
If Malik had information that could help police investigations, “he is under a duty to disclose it, and it is punishable by imprisonment if he does not disclose it”.
“That is something the court should put into the balance in deciding whether it is a reasonable intrusion into his human rights requiring him to disclose this material.”
Bailin said one of the investigations the police were pursuing “is designed to determine, among other things, whether his (Butt’s) renunciation of terrorism is in fact genuine”.