Source protection trial commences

Journalist begins High Court fight to defend right not to reveal source

Freelance journalist Robin Ackroyd today began his High Court defence to an action brought to compel him to identify a source for a story about Ian Brady published in the Daily Mirror in December 1999. The case raises important issues as to the effect of the Human Rights Act on the protection of journalistic sources.

The original Mirror article quoted from confidential patient records held by Ashworth Hospital, where Brady is held, following the Moors murderer’s hunger strike. The Mirror refused to reveal its sources and took the issue to the House of Lords, where it was unsuccessful. Mr Ackroyd then revealed that he had provided the paper with the story but refused to reveal his own source. Relying upon the House of Lords decision in the Mirror case, the High Court granted summary judgment against Mr Ackroyd in 2002 requiring him to identify his source. However this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal and the case has now reached trial.

Mr Ackroyd claims that his sources’ disclosure to him of their information, and his subsequent publication of that information in the newspaper, are acts protected by their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He contends that the ability of journalists to refuse to identify their sources makes a significant contribution to their ability to perform their important role as a public watchdog.

Mersey Care NHS Trust, which operates the top security hospital, argues that the need to preserve the confidentiality of medical records confidential and to identify the person who leaked the material prevails over the need to protect the identity of journalistic sources. Although no longer seeking compensation from Mr Ackroyd, the Trust is pursuing him under the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction as someone caught up in the wrongdoing of the source.

Media reports have claimed that Ian Brady himself has offered to give evidence in support of Mr Ackroyd to the effect that the Trust uses doctor-patient confidentiality to conceal conditions at Ashworth.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Tugendhat.