Thursday, July 2, 2009

United Kingdom: ARTICLE 19 Welcomes Judgment on Confidentiality of Journalistic Sources

24 June 2009
United Kingdom: ARTICLE 19 Welcomes Judgment on Confidentiality of Journalistic Sources

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the landmark ruling of the High Court in Belfast in the case of investigative journalist, Suzanne Breen, which decided that a court order forcing her to hand over her notes would have threatened her life and the lives of her family, and compromised the protection of her sources.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had sought a court order forcing Ms Breen, the Northern Ireland editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune, to hand over her mobile telephone, computer records and notes about the Real IRA, following the publication of stories relating the murder of two soldiers. Ms Breen had received the group's claim of responsibility for the murder of the soldiers at the Massereene Barracks in Antrim in March. Ms Breen argued that, if she had complied with such an order, she would have placed her own life, and the lives of her partner and 14-month-old child, at risk.

The judge, His Honour Tom Burgess, concluded in his judgment that "the concept of confidentiality for journalists protecting their sources is recognised in law", specifically under the Terrorism Act of 2000 and the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10. The judge emphasised that the material sought by the PNSI would have been covered by the obligation of confidentiality that Ms Breen owed to her sources. In his view, the risk to Ms Breen would have been "greatly increased" if she had revealed her sources.

Judge Burgess stated: "There is objective evidence that we are dealing with a ruthless and murderous group of people who would regard any handing over of any information in the possession of Ms Breen over and above the publication of their claim for responsibility, as exposing her to be treated as a legitimate target with the murderous consequences that could and may follow from that."

ARTICLE 19 views this judgment as an especially important victory for press freedom in the UK, especially since the PNSI submitted evidence at a private hearing and offered no public evidence in support of their application in reliance upon the Terrorism Act 2000. The judgment supports journalists' right to protect their sources, which has been widely recognised in international and regional human rights law.


o For more information please contact: Sejal Parmar, +44 20 7324 2500.
o The judgment in the case is available at:

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