Northern Ireland: IFJ welcomes move to quash search warrants

The IFJ has welcomed news that the "illegal" search warrants issued against two journalists are to be quashed.

Following two days in court, Lord Chief Justice Morgan has decided he is "minded to quash" the search warrants linked to the documentary film No Stone Unturned and the raids on the homes and office of NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. 

The judge said the next step would be a "remedy" hearing on Friday this week.

Welcoming the indication by the High Court Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"We welcome the decision of the High Court and eagerly await the formal quashing of the warrants on Friday. Three High Court judges have vindicated the stance taken by Trevor, Barry and the NUJ.  We have said all along that there was no legal basis for the searches and the intrusion into the family life of our members. Their legal teams deserve great credit and we acknowledge the support of allies and friends who rallied behind two brave, independent and committed journalists. Our Irish Executive Council and Belfast and District branch in particular have worked closely with external organizations. I know Barry and Trevor have been impressed by the public support and in particular by the efforts of Amnesty International. I want to thank every NUJ member for their backing and to thank the wider trade union movement for its unflinching support. Huge thanks are also due to our Irish office,  campaigns and legal departments but above all I want to pay tribute to Barry and Trevor for the manner in which they have stood by the NUJ code of conduct." 

IFJ General Secretary said: ""These warrants should never have been issued and Trevor and Barry should never have had to face the intrusion and threats they have faced. They have simply stood up for ethical journalism and we applaud them - and the NUJ for its great campaign in support of two brave journalists".

Speaking outside court, Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary also paid tribute to the two NUJ members and their legal teams. He said:

"When the two journalists were arrested the Irish Journalist headline was: ‘Stop Fishing: Go Catch the Killers’. Today’s announcement confirms our view that the raids on the homes of Barry and Trevor were illegal. The Chief Justice places a strong emphasis on the right of working journalists to protect their confidential sources. He drew heavily on the NUJ ethics code in questioning counsel for the police services and his written judgement will be of tremendous significance." 

Seamus also pointed out that, separate from the judicial review, the two journalists remain on police bail until September. He explained:

"The judicial review was a challenge to the search warrants and the seizure of journalistic material. Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney are on bail and subject to severe restrictions on their ability to work. The Chief Constable should now lift the threat of criminal prosecution and bring an end to this disgraceful episode."

Speaking after the decision today, Trevor Birney said:

"When he watched the film, the PSNI chief constable had a decision to take - to go after the killers or set the dogs on the journalists and press freedom, he chose the latter. In his last days I office he should do the right thing - end this attack on the press. We want to thank all our comrades in the NUJ who stood by us though this ordeal. We are indebted to them all."

Barry McCaffrey said:

"This has been a hugely stressful 10 months for our families and friends. This case was always a deliberate and determined attack on press freedom and the media’s ability to hold those in power to proper scrutiny. There were dark forces at the heart of this case and if we had lost it would have had huge ramifications for investigative journalism throughout Ireland and the UK. Thankfully the courts have acknowledged this fact. I would like to thank Sarah Kavanagh and Seamus Dooley at the NUJ, who led a tireless and brilliant campaign in our defence. A huge debt of thanks to our legal teams John Finucane, Niall Murphy, Gavin Millar QC, Barry MacDonald SC, Steven Toal and Peter Girvan. We will always be indebted to Patrick Corrigan at Amnesty, Daniel Holder at the Committee on the Administration of Justice and all of the other human rights defenders who supported us throughout this harrowing ordeal. This is a hugely important day for public interest reporting. The courts have sent a clear message – journalism is not a crime."

Gerry Carson, chair of the NUJ’s Irish executive council, said:

"This is a wonderful outcome for journalists everywhere. Our thanks for the great support from NUJ members, Amnesty International, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and many others groups and organisations who have been involved in this campaign."

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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