CPS publishes advice on prosecuting journalists over illicit newsgatheringChanges following five-month consultation on draft guidelines include closer scrutiny for so-called 'fishing expeditions'
The Crown Prosecution Service has published its final guidelines on the prosecution of journalists over illicit newsgathering methods, with so-called "fishing expeditions" to face closer scrutiny.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said on Thursday that the guidance underlines the need for prosecutors to consider public interest factors before deciding whether to bring criminal charges against journalists.
"The purpose of the guidelines is to strike the right balance between the important public interest in a free press and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing," said Starmer.
Changes following a five-month consultation on the draft guidelines include fresh guidance on prosecutions in cases involving fishing expeditions, and examples of stories that could be described as raising important matters of public debate.
The guidance advises prosecutors to consider what information was available to a journalist at the start of their investigation into the target of a story. This means that fishing expeditions – where the journalist does not have prima facie evidence of wrongdoing before using illicit newsgathering methods – will face closer scrutiny by prosecutors when deciding whether to launch criminal proceedings.
Another section gives examples for the first time about what prosecutors should consider "important matters of public debate". The guidance says that serious impropriety, significant unethical conduct and significant incompetence should all fall under this category.
The revised guidelines contain more detail about invasions of privacy by journalists. Prosecutors are advised to examine the particular impact of the invasion of privacy – which could include voicemail interception or email hacking – on the victim.
"When considering invasions of privacy, regard must be given to the level of seriousness of the invasion, whether on the facts there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, and whether the conduct in question was proportionate to the public interest claimed to have been served," the CPS guidelines state.
The guidelines come into force immediately and represent the first formal CPS policy involving the prosecution of journalists. They follow an unprecedented spate of arrests of journalists in Scotland Yard's investigation into alleged phone hacking, computer hacking, other breaches of privacy, and payments to police and public officials.
The CPS said it had examined ongoing prosecutions in this area – including the high-profile charges brought against former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson – and decided they are in line with the formal guidance published on Thursday.
Prosecutors are advised to consider whether the public interest served by journalistic conduct outweighs the overall criminality before bringing criminal proceedings.
The acting chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord Hunt, welcomed the guidance and said he hoped it would "generate a greater understanding and appreciation of the public interest, and also of the need to take it into account in editorial decision-making".
Friday, 14 September 2012
Crown Prosection Service as regulator: journalists' public interest defence
I'm writing in Sept 2012 when its widely assumed PM Cameron will afford the press yet another extension to 'drinking in the last chance saloon' (David Mellor's famous phrase from the time of Calcutt's Report). However, a review by the CPS establishes its credentials as a regulator of last resort above and beyond the PCC or any successor body. Details of a review of criteria for prosecuting journalists have just been published, which, amongst other things, begin to set out a firmer legal definition of the public interest defense that many of the PCC's code of conduct clauses had as an asterisked exception, or get-out; it also clarifies issues around privacy: