High Court rules in favour of journalism: The Chief Constable should apologise for the unlawful actions of his officers
By Jamie Bryson
Today’s (14 May 2019) judgement in the Northern Ireland High Court vindicated my challenge against search warrants obtained by the PSNI as part of a ludicrous third-party investigation by the Security Industry Authority, the basis of which appears to amount to little more than a technical dispute over whether a company was, or was not, trading.
The PSNI made much political capital out of this discredited operation, with the Chief Constable himself taking to social media to crow about the ‘good work’ of his officers. Their attempted imposition of police bail failed, and failed miserably. A humiliation on the BBC Nolan Show led them to a comical climb down on that issue. Their actions, on that front, had no basis in law.
I argued from the very outset that I am a journalist and therefore the PSNI should have been subjected to the more onerous procedure of applying for an Article 11 warrant in the County Court, rather than the Article 10 procedure they followed, thus allowing them to evade the more rigorous scrutiny.
The court highlighted today that even in their unlawful pursuit of the Article 10 warrant, the PSNI failed to disclose relevant information to the Lay Magistrate. This, the court held, did not comply with best practice.
There were a number of grounds of challenge; I took the approach that a scattergun approach best served my objectives. The court dismissed these grounds, but crucially ruled in my favour on the key core point; I am a journalist and the PSNI should have gone to the County Court to seek their warrant. Their actions were therefore unlawful.
I argued from the outset that they went under the wrong legislative provision. Some ridiculed this argument and advised me I would “never succeed”.
The PSNI and SIA had also, at the 11th hour, sought to bring a laughable Magistrates’ court summons into the proceedings in order to allow them to argue that a Judicial Review should not be allowed as it would interfere with those live proceedings. Those proceedings, the height of which is a false allegation that I said a company was not trading (which I did because it wasn’t) when it was (it wasn’t) , is subject to an abuse of process application which I will advance as a litigant in person this Friday (17 May 2019) in Newtownards court.
During the course of the proceedings I obtained hundreds of pages of disclosure from PSNI and SIA. This, in of itself, was a useful exercise and even in the absence of today’s victory, would have been well worth the lengthy legal battle.
The court further asserted that the manner in which I had ‘staggered’ my affidavit evidence provided me with an undue strategic advantage in the case, opining that this allowed that “he (the applicant) thereby avoided the rigorous application of the Kebeline principle to his judicial review challenge from the outset.”
Such a deliberate course of action on my part would have been entirely unethical and indeed would have skirted the duty of candour, albeit that such a strategic move would have been highly effective. However, the notion that I would ever seek to be pull such a manoeuvre in my dealings with the PSNI and SIA is entirely without foundation and further than this I am sure the esteemed and highly regarded counsel for the PSNI and SIA would find any suggestion that they had been out-played entirely offensive.
It would have been very easy for Mr Justice McCloskey, sitting with Mr Justice McAlinden, to steer away from the issue of journalistic privilege. It is no secret that I have received no support from the National Union of Journalists, and many of the liberal elite reacted with outrage over my claims of journalistic privilege. They scoffed, mocked and claimed I would never succeed in such a challenge. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel great satisfaction that after all their attempts to ridicule my claim of journalistic privilege, the highest court in Northern Ireland has affirmed that indeed I am a journalist and am therefore entitled to enhanced protections under the law.
A large of number of established and credible journalists offered me support, some publically and some privately. I would also extend my thanks to Kate Hoey MP- who went as far as challenging the Secretary of State on the matter in Parliament-, Jim Allister and Doug Beattie- all of whom raised questions of the PSNI and their actions from the very outset.
Today’s victory highlights the importance of never meekly accepting the assertions of the PSNI or allowing their actions to go without challenge. I hope more unionists and loyalists mount challenges, where appropriate, against any statutory body or otherwise, who are abusing their powers or acting unethically.
I am delighted by the outcome, as I am sure is reflected in this article. I fought the injustice of the PSNI’s actions, with my only weapon the law they sought to deploy against me. I won, and they lost.
George Hamilton owes me an apology. If he is a man at all then such an apology will be forthcoming. He decided to comment on this issue, for political reasons, it has now transpired his officers acted unlawfully; he really should be man enough to own that. ‘Good work’, eh George?