Lords Call for Better Protection for Journalists Sources in Miscarriage of Justice Bill

Lords from three political parties have called for draft legislation aimed at reducing instances of  miscarriages of justice to be tightened up to give better protection to journalists’ sources after the News Media Association alerted them to the issue.

Speaking in a debate on the Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill Friday, Lords expressed strong support for the Bill but said that an amendment was necessary to ensure journalists’ sources were properly protected.

Speaking about journalists’ sources, Lord Beith said: “That issue was raised with my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who cannot be here this morning. He passed on to me a letter from the News Media Association, which wrote to one of the Justice Ministers, Dominic Raab, on 16 February about this.”

Lord Black of Brentwood added: “In this House, I do not need to dwell on the importance of the protection of sources, which is a vital component of press freedom and indeed of the proper functioning of democracy. But given that the Bill gives the CCRC a right to access sources and therefore potentially undermines that, we should be careful to legislate in a way which minimises the possible damage.

“Sources are of course already under assault, not least from the misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The same issues are being robustly debated in the context of the new draft RIP Bill that is before Parliament. We should not do anything that adds to those burdens.

“This is especially true in the case of the CCRC because, paradoxically, the investigative journalism which has uncovered many miscarriages of justice can be so easily undermined where the confidentiality of sources is called into question.

“New evidence which could be of real help to the commission in its vital work could be less likely to come forward if people, including whistleblowers, know that their identity might be revealed.”

Lord Black said production orders should be subject to at least the same level of safeguards required under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act procedures for journalistic material.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Labour, added: “I support the Bill and support the width of the power that would be given to the courts. However, I also strongly support what the noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Black, said about the need for safeguards.

“The width of the power in the Bill would go beyond powers in other areas, and the two big examples are in relation to legal professional privilege and journalistic sources.”