Police attempts to seize a journalist’s notes under the Terrorism Act could have ‘a serious chilling effect’on British journalism, the High Court heard today.
And it was alleged that the unprecedented bid to seize journalistic material could even endanger a reporter’s safety.
A two-day judicial review hearing began today in the case of journalist Shiv Malik who is seeking to overturn a production order made by Greater Manchester Police in March seeking notes of interviews he held with terrorist suspect Hassan Butt.
Representing Malik, James Eadie QC said the order may be incompatible with Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, freedom of expression, and Article Six, the right not to self incriminate.
He said: ‘In short for Mr Malik there are significant problems: all the time and work that went into the book may be at risk. Sources do not make distinctions over whether the court has made an order or not, the perception would be that he has become a witness for the state.”
Eadie added that Malik feared for his safety and the safety of his sources, many of whom would be revealed to police through the disclosure of his notes to them.
He said: ‘There is a very high value to be attached to press freedom especially where confidential sources are involved and particularly in this investigation.
‘Because the order is so wide rangingâ€¦ it would have a serious chilling effect.”
On Friday this week the Sunday Times, BBC, Prospect Magazine and CBS News will all fight similar orders at a hearing in Manchester – also relating to notes involving Butt.
Speaking of those orders, Eadie said: ‘These applications are illustrative of the damage that is being done to the freedom of the press.”
He also said: ‘Terrorism is probably the pressing issue of the age.
“What makes those who who take part in it do so is a subject of the widest public interest, and so is an insight into the reality of what goes on – particularly if it leads someone who was committed to the cause to rethink and seek to remove himself from it.
“Serious journalism directed at shedding light on those features, drawing on experiences of an individual who has been there, is of the highest public importance.”
He added that the case concerned “the interface between a variety of rights and powers and freedoms”.
Andrew Edis QC, representing Manchester Police, said the police wanted information in relation to a pending terrorism trial off someone identified only as ‘A”.
Hassan Butt is currently in police custody and GMP have until today to either charge him, release him or apply to a judge for more time to question him.
The court heard that he has been interviewed by police at least 18 times since he was taken into custod on 9 May.
Three judges are hearing the challenge by Malik, who is a freelance.
The Manchester Police order requires Malik to disclose all source material for a book he is writing, Leaving al Qaeda: Inside The Mind Of A British Jihadist, in collaboration with Hassan Butt.
Granted under Schedule 5 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, the order stipulates production of source material for the book, “all material” generated as a result of the project, and all information in Malik’s possession regarding the alleged terrorist activities of Butt.
Refusal to comply with the order could lead to contempt of court proceedings and a possible two-year jail sentence for Malik, of Golders Green, north-west London.
Lord Justice Dyson, Mr Justice Pitchford and Mr Justice Ouseley are hearing the case.