Law Commission review of police powers to seize journalistic material 'extremely worrying'

Laws which allow police to seize evidence from journalists are in urgent need of toughening up – not “watering down”, industry leaders have warned.
The Society of Editors made the comments after the Law Commission recommended the Government should review rules on search warrants for obtaining confidential journalistic material.

The membership body, which fights for press freedom, said any reforms which weakened the protections a journalist had against police accessing information from sources would be “extremely worrying”.

The Commission, the Government’s independent body on law reform, concluded confidential journalistic material should still only be obtained under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) in “very limited circumstances”.
But it added: “We recommend that the Government considers whether the law governing access to confidential journalistic material under PACE strikes the right balance between the competing interests at play, and whether the law ought to be reformed.”

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said that it was an established custom of PACE legislation that special protection was afforded to journalistic material, and that an exemption for confidential journalistic material remained essential to protect the public’s right to know.

He said: “The Law Commission’s recommendation that the Government should review access to journalistic material under PACE is extremely worrying if it leads to weakened protections for journalistic material and sources.

“Under current legislation, PACE affords special protection to journalistic material and it is essential that, going forward, an exemption is similarly included in any draft legislation.

“The laws around police seizure of journalistic material require urgent need of strengthening – not watering down.

“Journalists must have confidence that their material remains protected if they are to guarantee source protection and ultimately fulfil their important public interest roles.”

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

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