The International Federation of Journalists hailed today a major victory for investigative journalism following the ruling by the British House of Lords in favour of freelance journalist Robin Ackroyd bringing to an end one of the longest running legal battles over protection of journalists' sources in the United Kingdom.
The House of Lords, Britain's highest legal authority, refused to grant the Mersey Care Hospital Trust leave to appeal a case they have pursued against Ackroyd since 2002 in an attempt to force him to reveal his sources in a story he wrote about medical treatment for Ian Brady, a notorious killer involved in an infamous crime known as the Moors murders.
“This ruling closes a sorry chapter of authorities using a vast amount of public money in a bid to force a courageous journalist to give up his source of information, " said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "They failed thanks to the commitment of a reporter who was determined to uphold a fundamental principle that is recognised by journalists worldwide. We all owe him an immense debt of gratitude.”
The case began seven years ago when the Daily Mirror newspaper was taken to court by Mersey Care over an article which revealed the treatment being received by Brady during a hunger strike. Ever since, the Trust has tried to discover how medical records on which the story was based were obtained. When Ackroyd identified himself as author of the story they began a long and acrimonous series of court actions against him.
In February 2006, the High Court ruled in favour of Ackroyd who the judge described as "a responsible journalist whose purpose was to act in the public interest".
Later, the Court of Appeal also ruled in Ackroyd's favour confirming that he did not have to reveal the identity of his source. But Mersey Care refused to give up.
They petitioned the House of Lords for permission to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s refusal to overturn the decision of the High Court not to order Ackroyd to disclose the source of a story.
The House of Lords appeal committee rejected this petition and Ackroyd was granted permission to apply for his costs which have been so far met by his union, the National Union of Journalists.
"We are delighted that this case can finally be closed," said NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear. "The fundamental point of principle – that there is a vital public interest in upholding journalists’ right not to reveal their sources – has been maintained."
In recent years IFJ affiliates around the globe and particularly in the United States, Australia, Italy, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have fought high-profile battles to protect sources of information.
“Journalists protect their sources as a cardinal principle of their professon," said Boumelha. "They have a professional duty of confidence which they perform, as Robin Ackroyd bravely has shown, as an overriding matter of conscience. This ensures the defence of press freedom and the continuation of journalism's fundamental watchdog role and scrutiny of all those who exercise power in democratic society."