A police force which banned a journalist from attending the 2017 Labour Party conference acted unlawfully, the High Court has ruled in a case “of genuine importance to journalists across the country”.
Sussex Police barred Huck Magazine contributing editor Michael Segalov from the 2017 Labour Party conference in Brighton because they deemed him an “extreme left-wing activist”.
He discovered that the police had labelled him as such for his work reporting on activists who had let bugs loose at a burger restaurant in London in response to immigration raids at the chain. Police said his presence indicated he was “involved”.
In a judgement today, Mr Justice Warby and Lord Justice Simon said the police force acted unlawfully by blocking the 25-year-old’s accreditation.
Segalov said in a statement that the High Court’s ruling “paid respect to three fundamental tenants of a functioning democracy: the freedom of the press, innocent until proven guilty, and the rule of law”.
“The unfair and secret process by which police have until now decided who can and cannot attend party conferences won’t be allowed to continue anymore,” he added.
“If unchallenged, the police’s attempts to criminalise journalistic activity in this case would have set a chilling precedent – ‘intelligence’ held on me by the police suggested journalists should be held responsible for what they report on.
“Thankfully the court confirmed what I had attempted to explain to the police all along. Hopefully the police won’t make such grave errors again.”
Ravi Naik from ITN solicitors, who acted for Segalov, said: “This is a claim of genuine importance to journalists across the country and, perhaps more crucially, to set parameters on the extent to which the police can regulate press freedom.
“We look forward to the police implementing a fairer and transparent system for accreditation.
“The case also marks an important swing in the asymmetry of the use of personal data by the police.
“We know that the police are using personal data for a number of purposes, often without oversight or any involvement for those affected. Michael’s case lays down an important marker to ward off abuse of data.”
Sussex Police also decided to bar Segalov because of his alleged attendance at peaceful protests between 2013 and 2015, some of which he has denied even attending.
According to the High Court judgement, police took issue with him reporting on the burger restaurant protest because he “did not intervene or walk away”, but accepted that he had not done anything criminal.
Police claimed Segalov’s “behaviour was escalating, moving from peaceful protest through to a form of direct action that presented a risk to public health and safety”.
The High Court rejected the claim, saying: “Even taken at face value, the assessment of threat does not appear to have been related to the risk to the security of the Labour Party Conference.”
The judges added that the fact he did not walk away from the protest or intervene against it could not be used to his discredit, although they said the “issue of how a journalist should react when faced, at close quarters, with criminal activity (if such it is) is not straightforward”.
A Sussex Police spokesperson said after the ruling: “We accept the court’s decision that the process followed was unlawful and will be reviewing this as a result, but note the important distinction that the decision itself was not criticised as being wrong by the judges.”
Judges dismissed a second claim against Greater Manchester Police, the force behind a screening process for those applying for party conference accreditation, as the decision was made by Sussex Police and passed on without explanation.