The Director of Public Prosecutions has defended police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act against The Sun and Mail on Sunday.
Asked if the Crown Prosecution Service should be giving advice to police on the use of RIPA against journalists, Alison Saunders said: “I think RIPA sets out a very clear and very thorough framework, quite rightly so, for what are intrusive powers.”
It emerged in September that The Sun’s newsdesk phone records, and those of political editor Tom Newton Dunn, had been obtained by the Metropolitan Police to find the source of its Plebgate story. Three officers lost their jobs as a result of the RIPA probe, despite the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service said they had no case to answer because they acted in the public interest.
It later emerged that Kent Police had used RIPA to trawl through the records of The Mail on Sunday news editor, David Dillon, and freelance Andrew Alderson, in relation to the Chris Huhne speeding points scandal. Again, this was used to gain evidence against the paper’s source, judge Constance Briscoe. She was being investigated on suspicion of giving misleading information to the police.
But Saunders claimed that these RIPA phone record grabs – the only uses of RIPA against journalists Saunders said she was aware of, despite two more being exposed by Press Gazette and in national newspapers – were not about finding sources, but exposing “serious criminal offences”.
Speaking before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Saunders said: “It is very important that we have a free, democratic press that can speak openly.
“I think in relation to certainly two of the cases I know about – I don’t know about any others, but the two that I know about – this wasn’t in relation to finding out leaks, it was in relation to investigations around criminal offences – and particularly serious criminal offences as well – that were being alleged.”
Asked by Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, whether decisions over whether RIPA can be used against journalists should be taken to a judge, Saunders said: “I think there is a very tough framework there. If it is applied properly then I think it gives a lot of safeguards.
“If Parliament thinks that there should be extra safeguards, then that’s a matter for Parliament, I think.”