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05 September 2019

Judge Highlights Importance of Confidential Journalistic Sources

A judge has highlighted the important work of investigative journalists and the need for them to be able to robustly protect their sources, after rejecting a police bid to obtain the notes of a The Times journalist.

Ruling that journalists from The Times, Sky News and ITN could not be compelled to hand over to the Metropolitan Police their notes from interviews with Shamima Begum, Judge Mark Dennis QC said: “the work of investigative journalists in particular does rely upon trust.”  

He said: “There is no doubt that the initial Times newspaper report was a commendable piece of investigative journalism and represents a significant public interest story which has opened up an important issue for public debate.

“Such journalistic investigation is to be encouraged, however, the work of investigative journalists in particular does rely upon trust, confidentiality, protection of journalistic material and sources, their perceived neutrality, and the co-operation of people who are prepared to place their trust in journalists.”

The Metropolitan Police said that the court should compel disclosure of unpublished material from The Times, Sky News and ITN. Scotland Yard also applied to see interview footage taken by the BBC.

The Times, Sky and ITN resisted the application for a production order — made under the Terrorism Act 2000 — on the grounds that handing over the notes would be a breach of protection for journalists under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a leader today, The Times said: “Journalists have no wish to obstruct police investigations or interfere with justice. Working out how to proceed against Ms Begum and other Isis recruits as and when they return to Britain is a tricky task.

“At the moment, however, the prospect of such a return is remote. The judge correctly decided that our duty to report matters in the public interest outweighs the potential value of any information the police may derive at this stage in their investigation from scrutiny of material Loyd has gathered.

“That material will be preserved against future developments in the case. In the meantime, the police should do their job as we will continue to do ours.”

The Metropolitan Police has not indicated whether it intends to appeal.