Police powers to launch undefined ‘fishing expeditions’against journalists who are investigating terrorism have been curbed by a judicial review ruling from the High Court.
Lawyers and free speech campaigners have welcomed the ruling on freelance journalist Shiv Malik, which they said would force police to be far more specific in the production orders they file under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The 29-page ruling, following a two-day hearing last month, ruled that the order against Malik issued by Greater Manchester Police in March was ‘too wide”.
Although police were specifically interested in the book Malik is co-writing with alleged former Jihadist organiser Hassan Butt, the judgment said the original production order ‘might lead to the disclosure of the defendant’s sources other than Hassan Butt”.
Another High Court hearing this Thursday (26 June) will decide the final scope of the order (see pressgazette.co.uk).
GMP had also made separate orders against US TV network CBS News and Prospect magazine, which carried interviews with Butt, although these have now been dropped. Identical orders continue to be sought against The Sunday Times and the BBC.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who was representing CBS, said the Malik ruling offered a ‘road map’to immunity for journalists facing Terrorism Act production orders.
He said: ‘The judgment says you can’t go on an undetermined fishing expedition, which is very helpful. The question is: What can the police go fishing for?
‘If a journalist has material which is critical to prove the guilt or innocence of an individual, then in those circumstances it may be appropriate to make such an order.
‘If the police can get information from officers’ observation logs or covert surveillance sources then they should do so before they expose journalists. Otherwise the public role journalists undertake is impaired.”
Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, which has supported Malik’s fight, said: ‘It is quite a victory for Shiv. It means the police won’t be able to go on the same kind of fishing expeditions. They are going to have to define what they want to look at very closely.”
Glanville called for fresh legislation to protect journalists investigating terrorism.
Detective chief superintendent Tony Porter, head of GMP’s Counter Terrorism Unit, said: ‘GMP recognises the vital role journalists play in reporting on crime and security, and understands the concerns they have raised. However, we have a responsibility to investigate terrorism and we will use all appropriate legislation to do that.
‘We do not take this responsibility lightly and consider all the implications before taking any action, but public protection has to remain our top priority.”