QC warns Terrorism Act could be used to uncover journalists’ sources

Gavin Millar QC

A media lawyer has warned that terrorism legislation could be used by police to obtain information on journalists’ sources.

Gavin Millar QC said that, under the Terrorism Act 2000, UK citizens who travel to Syria to fight the Assad regime are deemed terrorists.

He added that these people are not speaking to journalists because media organisations cannot “give comfort to the sources of the stories that we will keep their identities confidential.”

Mr Millar added that the act also contains a “nasty offence… of journalists not informing police when they have information about whether a terrorist offence has been committed”.

Speaking at the IBC Protecting the Media conference this month, the QC added: “The definition of terrorism in section 1 is very wide. It can include action to advance a religious cause amongst other things, and to influence the government or intimidate the public…

“The concept of action obviously includes violence or the threat of violence. Action includes something you do overseas. And government can mean the government of another country.

“It all sounds innocent enough until you start to think about Syria and British citizens going to fight in Syria against the government of Assad, in one of the groups that is fighting Assad.

“Now they are, in the view of the courts, terrorists, because of the words of the definition under section 1. That is very important.”

Terrorism is loosely defined under section 32 of the act to include any police or law enforcement agency’s investigation probe of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorist acts as well as funding of proscribed organisations, among other things.

Mr Millar said: “Because there is a very wide definition of terrorism, it is very easy to say there is an aspect of an investigation that is a terrorism investigation.”

The act also allows police to obtain evidence via a production order just as they can under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

However, the orders are easier to obtain under the Terrorism Act.

“It is simply a question of whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the journalistic material that is being sought would be of substantial value to the investigation, which is not difficult to make out in front of a judge,” Mr Millar said.

“Now in all of these cases, there is a back-stop argument that a production order should not be made for Article 10 reasons, because what the journalist was engaging in was public interest journalism and that has a value, and it has a chilling effect if the state goes around getting production orders against journalists for this sort of material.”