ECHR rules UK courts violated Convention by ordering source disclosure
Five UK media organisations have today won a significant ruling from the European Court of Human Rights upholding their right to protect journalistic sources.
Financial Times Ltd, Independent News & Media Ltd, Guardian Newspapers Ltd, Times Newspapers Ltd and Reuters Group plc had asked the Court to rule that High Court and Court of Appeal orders requiring them to deliver up a leaked document to Interbrew violated their right to freedom of expression. The news organisations were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords but had refused to comply with the lower courts’ orders.
The Strasbourg Court today held that the UK court orders violated the applicant organisations’ rights to freedom of expression. In their unanimous judgment, delivered almost 8 years after the initial High Court order, the Court reiterated that the protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions of press freedom in a democratic society and that an order leading to identification of a source could not be compatible with Article 10 unless it was justified by an “overriding requirement in the public interest”. The Court held that Interbrew’s interests in taking action against the source of the leak, and the supposed mala fides of the source in the case, were insufficient to justify such an order.
Sir Michael Tugendhat and Richard Parkes QC, while members of 5RB, acted for the media organisations both before the domestic courts and, along with 5RB‘s Professor Tony Smith, in their application to the European Court. After Sir Michael became a Judge of the High Court, Richard Parkes QC and Tony Smith continued to represent the successful media organisations.
For the full 5RB case report and a pdf of the judgment, please click here.