Scottish justice minister refuses to say whether police breached Save Our Sources law to view journalists' call records

Scottish justice secretary Michael Matheson has refused to say whether he knows if Police Scotland is one of the forces under investigation for breaching the Save Our Sources law.

It has been widely reported in Scotland that the force was one of two to secretly obtain journalistic phone records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act without judicial approval after the law was changed to prevent this in March.

This stopgap law was put in place following pressure from Press Gazette’s six-month Save Our Sources campaign.

In July, RIPA watchdog the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) revealed that two police forces had breached the new law.

IOCCO refused to name the forces, saying the journalists involved would be informed if “wilful or reckless failure" was found.

But in August the Sunday Herald newspaper reported that Police Scotland was one of the forces. Police Scotland and IOCCO have refused to confirm or deny these reports.

And yesterday, appearing on Sunday Politics Scotland, Matheson also refused to confirm this. And he also refused to say whether he knew whether Police Scotland was one of the forces.

Interviewer Gordon Brewer (pictured right) asked Matheson (left): “Is Police Scotland one of those forces?”

Matheson: "Well, as IOCCO have already got an investigation into the two police forces that you made reference to into this matter have stated, that it would not be appropriate for them to name who these particular forces are at this particular time.“

Brewer: “Why not?”

Matheson: "Well they've already set out their reason for that. It's because very often this relates to live investigations that are presently being undertaken by the forces.”

Brewer: “But they've finished their report. They told the Scottish parliament last week, they've finished their report, they would like to publish it, and they can't publish it because there isn't a commissioner in place… Is Police Scotland one of the forces that was investigated?”

Matheson: "As IOCCO said very clearly is it would not be appropriate for them to name those police forces while they are conducting their investigation… and the reason for that is because very often these matters relate to live investigations. And it could prejudice the live investigation if they were to name those particular forces. So I respect IOCCO's view on this matter."

Brewer: “I can't see how on earth it would prejudice anything when if you sat there and told me whether or not Police Scotland was one of the forces which was investigated by an inquiry which is now over.”

Matheson: "For the very reason IOCCO said it would not be appropriate. And I respect – "

Brewer: “Do you know whether or not Police Scotland was one of these forces?”

Matheson: "I respect IOCCO's – "

Brewer: “But do you know?”

Matheson: "Well, I respect IOCCO's position on this matter. And what I've also said on a number of occasions now is that I expect all public authorities in Scotland who have got powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to make sure that they're applying with the code of practice and those regulations robustly."

Brewer: “I understand, I'm just asking whether you know yourself.”

Matheson: "What I do [know] is I'm respecting IOCCO's position in this matter. And it's for them to investigate these issues, and once they've reported on the matter – "

Brewer: “Not only can you not say whether or not Police Scotland is one of the forces, you can't say whether or not you know Police Scotland is one of the forces?”

Matheson: "What I can say is that I'm not going to prejudice the way in which IOCCO are taking this forward. And I respect their position is that it would not be appropriate to name any of the forces involved until their investigation's complete."

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