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  1. Media Law
October 3, 2014updated 07 Oct 2014 4:32pm

‘Prosecutions of journalists are having an insidious, chilling effect on freedom of speech’

By William Turvill

Three MPs, a media law expert and a press freedom campaigner have questioned the decision to retry Sun reporter Vince Soodin.

Yesterday, an Old Bailey jury could not reach a 10:2 majority verdict in the case against Soodin, 40, who allegedly conspired with a police officer to obtain confidential information about a child who was attacked by a fox in a school playground.

The story was published in the summer of 2010 and Soodin was arrested in August 2012. According to his newspaper, he will be retried next February – two and a half years on from his arrest.

The Sun today quotes Keith Vaz, Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, as saying: “You only prosecute if you have had a reasonable prospect of prosecution. If the jury are saying they cannot convict you need to think carefully about whether or not you should do it again.

“We are seeing Alison Saunders (CPS DPP) on October 13 and we will be asking her to reassure Parliament about the reasons for seeking to re-hear a case quite quickly when a jury has decided it cannot come to a conclusion.

“If there is not enough evidence to convict, the decision to want to do it again is understandable only if it is in the public interest to do so.”

Tory MP Tracey Crouch todl the paper: “The CPS should be embarrassed and ashamed. It’s taken them years to bring this to trial, putting enormous strain on the journalist and his family. They should question whether an immediate retrial is a fair use of public funds.”

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And Philip Davies, another Tory MP, said: “The CPS have always got to have in mind that prosecutions need to be in the public interest. They need to consider whether spending more public money is genuinely in the public interest.”

Media lawyer Gavin Millar QC said in The Sun: "Sometimes the justice system is like a bramble bush — once you're caught up in it, you can be stuck there for years.

"The worst thing is they're taking so long to bring these cases to trial, leaving people presumed to be innocent in limbo for months and years on end.

"When you get a hung jury, you're condemned to wait several months more just to get back to the start.

"We should be asking if it's in the public interest to pursue this case — or if it was even right to bring it in the first place.

"There is a public interest test for all criminal cases, but the Crown Prosecution Service does not seem to be applying it when journalists are involved. They've lost all sense of proportion.

"They should be more transparent about their decision-making and tell us where the pressure to prosecute journalists is coming from — is it the police, the government?

"Police and prosecutors should ask themselves if a case is really important enough to warrant a trial at the Old Bailey. In this case, they got it drastically wrong.

"When they hear a defendant's in the witness box saying they didn't know what they were doing was a crime, and that they were just doing their job, juries are likely to be very reluctant to convict.

"The use of vague law against journalists should be extremely worrying to every man, woman and child in this country. We have to have certainty in the law, particularly where journalists are concerned. It is the bedrock of a democratic society.

"Unless the law is clear and everyone knows it, how do you expect people to follow it? These laws are not new, but they have never been used in this way against journalists.

"Of course, there are cases that have to be prosecuted because they're so serious,

"These prosecutions are having an insidious, chilling effect on freedom of speech, and the fear is that journalists will soon be too scared to do their daily jobs."

Mick Hume, a Press Gazette blogger and Sun columnist, said Soodin had been “treated like a jihadist”.

He said: "Vince Soodin was arrested in a dawn police raid in August 2012, kept on police bail for a year before he was charged, left to stew for another year before his trial, and now, after the prosecutors failed to convince the jury that he was guilty, he has to wait almost another four months for a retrial.

“This young journalist will have spent two-and-a-half years in legal limbo, with the threat of jail hanging over his head, without being found guilty of anything.

“How do cases like this fit the police's own rules about action being 'timely, fair and proportionate'? Yet they seem determined to drag it out further.

"And Vince Soodin is not alone. More than three years after the Met crusade against tabloid journalism started, there have been 63 journalists arrested; 28 including Vince Soodin are still awaiting trial and six more are still stuck on police bail.

“Why? These people are journalists, not jihadists.

“Prosecutors have been unable to convict a single News UK journalist of corrupting public officials.

“I doubt if the law has ever left so many dangling for so long.”

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