Australia: High Court overturns search warrant on journalist’s home

The High Court has thrown out the warrant used by the Australian Federal Police officers to search the home of a News Corporation journalist in June last year. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in welcoming the decision but warning that the powers that enabled the raid remain.

Annika Smethurst won her High Court battle. Credit: News Corp Australia

The court found that the warrant used to search the house of Annika Smethurst last year was not correctly issued. The journalist’s home was raided after the Sunday Telegraph published a story Smethurst wrote on the expanded powers of the Australian Signals Directorate.  

That same week there was a raid on the ABC, sparking an outcry about restrictions on press freedom and the public’s right to know. In February, 2020, the Federal Court of Australia found the warrants, used by the AFP to raid its office, were valid.

The High Court decision failed to consider whether the raid on Smethurst’s home had an impact of freedom of information. In the decision handed down today, a majority of High Court justices also dismissed a request that the police hand back the seized material.

MEAA said: "The raid was an attack on the public’s right to know what our governments do in our name. The warrant has been quashed on a technicality but the powers that enabled the raid remain. This was based on an assessment by the judges that there was no sufficient right that required protection. Starkly read, this means here is no protection for public-interest journalism in Australia.

The IFJ said: “The expanded powers given to the AFP to seize material in the public interest raising significant concerns for journalism.  The IFJ calls for greater protections for journalists and for Australian lawmakers to rule out prosecuting journalists for serving public interest journalism.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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