English PEN and Index on Censorship welcome the case against Belfast journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey being dropped by police, and their journalistic and personal belongings being returned.
English PEN Director Antonia Byatt said:
English PEN is delighted that the case against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey has been dropped. It is a victory for press freedom in Northern Ireland and a vindication for two journalists who were rightly doing their job.
Birney and McCaffrey produced a documentary No Stone Unturned which examines claims of state collusion in the murders of six men.
In evidence submitted to the High Court in Northern Ireland, English PEN and Index on Censorship said raids on the homes and office of Birney and McCaffrey should be ruled unlawful.
We filed a written submission to the court on May 17 after the court granted permission for the organisations to intervene, represented by solicitor Darragh Mackin at Phoenix Law and barrister Jude Bunting at Doughty Street Chambers.
On 31 May, the High Court in Belfast ruled that Birney and McCaffrey acted lawfully, that police warrants against them were ‘inappropriate’, and that all confiscated material be returned.
On 29 May, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan had said:
We are minded to quash the warrants on the basis that they were inappropriate, whatever the other arguments.
Index on Censorship editor Rachael Jolley said:
We welcome the news that the Lord Chief Justice is minded to quash the warrants against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. This is a significant step to ensure that press freedom is protected. English PEN and Index argued in a submission to the court that the conduct carried out in this case to raid the journalists’ houses and carry away documents and items that were not even related to the documentary was likely to have the effect of intimidating journalists throughout Northern Ireland and further afield.
Darragh Mackin at Phoenix Law said:
This is a victory for press freedom and common sense. The protection of journalistic material and sources is one of the basic conditions for freedom of expression. If journalists and their sources cannot rely on confidentiality, they may decide not to exchange information on sensitive matters of public interest for fear of the consequences. As a result, the vital “public watchdog” role of the press will be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable reporting may be adversely affected. This is why the approach of the police in this case was so obviously wrong. The decision to grant a warrant to obtain information from journalists, without giving them an opportunity to comment, had the purpose or effect of intimidating journalists the world over. The international significance of this claim is reflected in our client’s intervention.