European Court fast-tracks decision on challenge to state surveillance of journalists

A campaign to stop the UK Government spying on journalists and their sources has today been given “priority” by the European Court of Human Rights (pictured, Shutterstock).

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism submitted a legal challenge to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act prompted by Edward Snowden's revelations over state mass electronic surveillance.

It claims that the UK state is breaching European law by accessing the electronic communications and telecoms records of journalists.

Today the Bureau learned that the ECHR has prioritised its legal challenge, meaning a judgment is expected with around a year rather than the usual four or five years.

This comes after Press Gazette, and a number of other organisations, wrote to the ECHR setting out why there was a pressing need for this issue to be addressed.

The Bureau is concerned that UK legislation governing the country’s mass surveillance and interception programmes does not protect journalistic sources adequately. It argues that this is in breach of Articles 8 (right to privacy) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If the Bureau is successful, the Government will have to “review the laws governing its collection of communications data”.

It reports today that the court has completed its initial examination of the case and has asked the Government to submit its view “on the merits and admissibility of the arguments” by 6 May.

The Bureau reports Monckton chambers solicitor Conor McCarthy as saying: “The case has been considered sufficiently important to justify it leapfrogging all types of other cases.”

And Gavin Millar QC, of Matrix Chambers, who is working on the case for the Bureau, said: “These are Orwellian times. The state should no longer be allowed to claim an absolute right to silence on such fundamental matters. It must start to admit what it should not be denying.”

Separately, Press Gazette reported yesterday how every UK national newspaper editor has put their names to a letter to the Prime Minister opposing a new draft RIPA code from the Home Office.

The code states that police can continue to secretly view journalists' phone records provided they give “special consideration” to the “proportionality” of doing so.

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