NMA Seeks Sufficient Protection for Journalistic Material in Miscarriage of Justice Investigations

A Bill to give the Criminal Cases Review Commission new powers to order the disclosure of information from journalists, media organisations and their lawyers even when investigating miscarriage of justice must contain better journalistic safeguards, says the News Media Association. 

The CCRC, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice on behalf of defendants, currently has the power to apply to the Crown Court for an order that requires a public body to disclose information that will help the Commission with an investigation.

A private members Bill that has strong Government backing – The Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill – will extend this power to all private bodies and organisations, and during the third reading of the Bill in the Commons, news agencies and their legal departments were specifically identified as falling within the remit of the power.

William Wragg MP, who introduced the Bill, specifically said that it was intended to bring “news agencies” within the scope of the CCRC, and Christina Rees MP emphasised this point by saying that the Bill would cover “journalists and legal departments of newspapers.”  

In giving the Government’s support of the Bill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice, Dominic Raab did acknowledge the importance of journalists’ sources, though he did not say what formal protection they would receive.

He said: “The involvement of the court is an important safeguard in the process. The individual or the company from which any material is requested will be able to put their case to the court if they think that the information either needs to be maintained for confidentiality or should not be disclosed.

“There are safeguards for documents that are, for example, commercially sensitive or subject to legal privilege. Clinics may want to safeguard personal medical records whose disclosure could be detrimental to the patient or patients concerned, and journalists want to protect their sources. All such things can be catered for in the process.” 

The NMA has written to the Minister that introduced the Bill highlighting the need for formal protections for journalistic material that are at least as strong as the provisions in PACE regarding journalistic material.

The Bill is currently making its way through the Lords, and will have its second reading on 26 February.