UK: Media not allowed to report about trials concerning terrorism

By Katrin Welker
On 9 February 2016, the England and Wales Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal brought by a number of media organisations against continuing restrictions on reporting about a trial concerning terrorism (case no. [2016] EWCA Crim 11).

terrorism Detonation of a car bomb

The case had been the subject of reporting from the outset. In May 2014, upon the prosecution’s request, the Court gave the order, that much of the evidence was heard either in total privacy or in a special closed session where accredited journalists could attend the hearing in camera but were prohibited to report of what took place in their presence. The selection of these Journalists was to be resolved by the media parties themselves. Various media companies opposed this decision. They accepted that some of the evidence given in the trial should remain out of the public domain. But they also stated that there would be no longer a significant risk or serious possibility that the administration of justice would be prevented if the media would publish reports of the trial now that the trial had been concluded. In consequence, there would not be any longer a continuing justification for departing from the principles of open justice.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of the media companies. It stressed that the order of the Court was indeed unusual, but that it was justified because the judge was faced with the application by the prosecution to hold parts of trials in camera for reasons of national security. The Court emphasized that the decisions to hold the trial in camera is not up to the Director of Public Prosecutions (the DPP), but rather up to the judge. The Court continued that in the case at hand it was necessary that the evidence and other information heard when the journalists were present were heard in camera. The nature of evidence necessitated a departure from the principle of open justice. Furthermore, the Court outlined that there is always the possibility that disclosure can be sought at a later time when there is no longer any reason to keep the information from the public.

Katrin Welker works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

Read more

The decision of the England and Wales High Court of 9 February 2016 is available here.