“Journalists who obtain leaked official material could be sent to prison under new proposals” according to The Telegraph.
New proposals are being brought forward in the U.K., in an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act, that could see journalists jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents. In a 324 page review, it is suggested that anyone who leaks “sensitive information” that damages the economy could face jail due to the Official Secrets Act. The proposals come from the Government’s independent law advisors.
The new changes could see individuals jailed not just for leaking documents, but also for obtaining them. It will also extend the scope of the law so that documents that cover economic wellbeing are included.
This means that someone who obtains documents about the economic status of the U.K. after Brexit may be subject to prosecution.
Jim Killock is the executive director of Open Rights Group. He states that “it is clearly an attempt to criminalise ordinary journalism”.
There are already examples of leaked Brexit documents obtained by journalists. For instance, Sam Coates of The Times leaked a document highlighting the high and low priority industries for Brexit talks in just the past few days. Some have described the leaked list as “dynamite”.
According to The Telegraph, the changes do not allow for a statutory public interest defence.
Conservative MP Damian Collins, who is chairman of media, sport and culture committee, stated that “We need to look at these proposals very carefully. Whistle-blowing can be in the national interest. We need to ensure that we get the balance right between protecting sensitive official information and allowing debate about facts where there is a clear and overwhelming national interest.”.
According to ‘Guidelines for prosecutors on assessing the public interest in cases affecting the media’ on The Crown Prosecution Service website;
Freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information are recognised and protected both under the common law and by the Human Rights Act 1998. Prosecutors are therefore required to take these rights into account when making decisions which may affect the exercise of these rights.
It’s unclear how the new proposals will interact with the Human Rights Act 1998 and other laws such as the Defamation Act 2013 – which put in place some provisions for public interest defence.