John McDonnell MP, secretary of the National Union of Journalists group in Parliament, stated in the Chamber of the House of Commons that he was unhappy with all the amendments that have been tabled, from all sides, in relation to the Serious Crime Bill on 23rd February. John was particularly concerned with the Government’s new clause 24 and new clauses 4 and 5 in relation to the protection of journalistic sources.
John said “There are three principles on which the NUJ has been campaigning-in relation to RIPA, DRIPA and this Bill-in regard to applications for access to information on journalistic sources by the police, the intelligence services or anybody else. We have discovered that a large proportion of applications have come from people in that last category-“anybody else”-in recent years, including even local authorities. The first of the three principles that the NUJ has been trying to establish is that there should be an independent process with judicial authorisation to protect professional communications. The second is that there should be automatic and mandatory prior notification of requests. The third is that there should be mechanisms in place to challenge an application, along with the right of appeal.”
Although the judicial authorisation is being addressed John was concerned that none of the amendments satisfied all three conditions and went on to say “there does not seem to be a proposal for a process by which the individual journalist would be notified. Journalists do not seem to be party to these proposals at all. As a result, there seems to be no mechanism for their views to be represented when the judicial authorisation is being sought, or for them to challenge the proposal or the court’s decision on the protection of their sources.”
John asked for information on the process from here on in, and on whether and how those issues will be addressed.
“Unless the Government introduce amendments that enable prior notification and a mechanism by which an application can be challenged, they will certainly not satisfy the journalists of the NUJ who have been working on this issue for so long, and nor will they satisfy European legislation.”
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