Dale Farm

Police and protestors clash at Dale Farm in October 2011

Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The High Court has quashed a production order that would have forced broadcasters including the BBC, Sky and ITN, to hand over footage captured during the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction to Essex police.

ITN's chief executive John Hardie, who previously raised concerns about "the frequency and nature of these requests", hailed today's ruling as "landmark" and "a legal recognition of the separate roles of the police and independent news organisations".

The broadcasters, along with the National Union of Journalists – on behalf of freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson – and production company Hardcash Productions, sought a judicial review earlier this year after it was ruled in February that there was "a clear and compelling case for disclosure of the material".

Today in the High Court Mr Justice Eady concluded that the parties seeking judicial review "are entitled to succeed on all three of their grounds".

"There is no doubt that the statutory provisions governing disclosure orders can be of great value in tracing those responsible for public order and other offences and thus in serving the public interest.

"The importance of establishing the access conditions, however, should never be underestimated"

He added that "disclosure orders against the media, intrusive as they are, can never be granted as a formality".

"There must at least be cogent evidence as to (i) what the footage sought is likely to reveal, (ii) how important such evidence would be to carrying out the investigation and (iii) why it is necessary and proportionate to order the intrusion by reference to other potential sources of information.

"Unfortunately, in the present proceedings, the burden was not discharged and the judge was accordingly unable to justify ordering disclosure against any of the claimants."

As a result, Mr Justice Eady ruled that the orders be quashed.

In a statement ITN chief executive John Hardie said: "We fought this case on a matter of principle - to ensure that journalists and cameramen are not seen as agents of the state and to protect the safety of our staff.

"The requests from Essex Police didn’t relate to specific incidents of serious criminality and amounted to no more than a 'fishing expedition' to see what footage ITN and other news organisations held on the Dale Farm evictions.

"We hope that this decision will lead to fewer requests from police for unbroadcast footage of demonstrations and public disorder and rein in what has become an increasingly worrying trend."

In today's ruling Lord Justice Moses added that police should not be discouraged from, "where necessary" trying to "obtain material which is likely to contain evidence to assist in successfully prosecuting those who participate in violence".

But he added "it is not easy to do so and it should not be easy".

"I hope, on the contrary, these judgments will assist in identifying the need for specific and clear evidence and grounds for making production orders.

"That the judge was unable to justify the orders he made stemmed from the inadequacy of the evidence and the grounds advanced by the police."


General secretary of the NUJ Michelle Stanistreet issued the following statement:

"Today is a huge victory for the cause of press freedom and the protection of sources and journalistic material.

"We are incredibly pleased that the NUJ and other media organisations have won the High Court battle against the police production order to force journalists to hand over their Dale Farm eviction footage."

Head of newsgathering at the BBC Fran Unsworth also issued the statement below in response to the ruling:

"This is a significant ruling which reinforces the independence of news organisations from the police.

"We fought this case because the order amounted to little more than a fishing expedition. Journalists must maintain their independence, must not be seen as evidence gatherers and must not have their safety compromised.

"The guidance makes it clear that applications for un-broadcast material must be supported by proper evidence, must be focused and proportionate and the court has acknowledged that the over-use of production orders may make it harder for the press to do its job. This will benefit both news organisations and our audiences."

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