Court upholds journalistic right to free speech and independence of the press.
We welcome this comprehensive judgment from the Court of Appeal in the case of Fine Point Films and Trevor Birney. The Divisional Court today gave clear guidance to all judges that is intended to forevermore prevent a reoccurrence of the events of 31 August 2018.
On that date, heavily armed officers invaded a quiet Belfast neighbourhood in order to force entry into the family home of a respected and award winning journalist. As Mr Birney was subsequently led away under arrest, his children were forever scarred by the most unmerited, frightening and unlawful intrusion into their home. At that very same moment, dozens of police officers were unlawfully seizing hundreds of hours of highly-sensitive footage from the office of the highly acclaimed and award winning production company, Fine Point Films.
This thinly veiled attack on the journalistic community saw confidential materials about highly sensitive matters such as clerical abuse and state endorsed murder gangs, rummaged through on the false assertion that it may be relevant to the fanciful search for those who would dare to expose the truth about police collusion with loyalist terrorists and their role in the Loughinisland atrocity.
By virtue of this ill-fated attempt to silence investigative journalism, the police instead highlighted the value of freedom of expression and caused a wave of support from right-thinking people around the world. The subsequent campaign to exonerate the journalists was supported by their fellow journalists, high profile lawmakers from home and abroad, including Amnesty International and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, figures from the media and from the Oscar winning director of the film, Alex Gibney.
In short, this judgement represents a victory for the free press, values the crucial role played by investigative journalists in a modern democracy and is a strong warning to those who would attempt to silence investigative journalism in the future.