18 May 2012
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) today welcomed the High Court ruling that disclosure orders can never be granted as a formality.
Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Eady have quashed an order for media organisations to hand over footage shot during the Dale Farm eviction in October 2011. The written judgement cited that “police had failed to make a sufficiently strong case” and accepted the media’s joint position that it was a fishing expedition for evidence.
The application was granted by Judge Gratwicke at Chelmsford Crown Court in February whenEssex Police submitted the application claiming the footage was needed to pursue prosecutions.
Mr Justice Eady said disclosure orders “can never be granted as a formality” and that while the police should not be discouraged from seeking to obtain material in the future, “it is not easy to do so and it should not be easy.”
The fact that Judge Gratwicke was unable to justify the order he made “stemmed from the inadequacy of the evidence and the grounds advanced by the police”, the judgement recorded.
The CIoJ said: “We welcome the comments that have been made regarding disclosure orders. Handing over material without a fight would allow people to think that the media is part of the establishment or in league with public authorities.”
“This ruling sends a stark warning to anyone who thinks journalists are there to gather material for anything other than the reporting of fact. It is a clear message that journalists remain independent, impartial witnesses to events. The media organisations who challenged it and won will give heart to many others in the media, because communities like Dale Farm would never have trusted a journalist again.”
The Judgement is available at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/bskyb-others-judgment-17052012.pdf
Notes to Editors
1. The footage was shot during the operation to evict travellers from the site near Basildon on 19 and 20 October 2011 and included scenes of violence as bailiffs dismantled barricades.
2. The media involved – The BBC, Independent Television News, Channel 5, BSkyB, Hardcash Productions and freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson – joined forces to oppose the orders fearing it would blur the lines of independent journalism.
3. In the judgement Mr Justice Eady said it was difficult to dispute there was a real public interest in tracing people involved in public disorder or violence, but that has to be set against the level of interference with the media’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
4. “Because the cupboard was bare” when it came to demonstrating that the material would be of substantial value to the police investigation, the claimants were denied a fair opportunity to demonstrate to the (Chelmsford) court why much, if not the totality, of their material was unlikely to be of any assistance.”
5. Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.