Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Journalist makes legal history

Legal history has been made in Edinburgh with The Investigatory Powers Tribunal awarding substantial damages to a Scotish investigative journalist after Police Scotland had unlawfully obtained his phone records to discover the identity of his sources.

The award of £10,000 to former police officer, Gerard Gallacher, is the first time any British court/tribunal has compensated a UK journalist for jeopardising the protection of his sources by intercepting his communications data.

Police Scotland failed to comply with a legal duty to seek the permission of a judge.

Its detectives were investigating the source of three articles published in April 2015 by the Sunday Mail newspaper about the failed murder inquiry into the death of 27-year-old Emma Caldwell in 2005.

Mr Justice Burton said in his ruling released on August 8: “Mr Gallacher was a persuasive advocate before us, and put before us orally and in writing his case as to the invasion of privacy, familial strife, personal stress and strain and loss of long-standing friendships which he alleged to result from the Respondents’ (Police Scotland) unlawful acts.”

The Tribunal said the compensation was necessary because the actions of Police Scotland had led to “a stultification of earning potential.”

The CIoJ’s senior representative in Scotland, Campbell Thomas, said: “It is very welcome that the pendulum in protecting journalists’ sources is now swinging back. It’s a very significant outcome.”

The Tribunal sitting in Edinburgh had ruled that obtaining the communications data was unlawful and breaches of  Articles 8 (privacy) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This decision contrasts with a Tribunal ruling in February when it declined to give compensation to Sun reporter Craig Woodhouse whose data over nine days had been accessed by the Metropolitan Police investigating ‘Plebgate’, the exposé about an altercation between police officers at Downing Street and Tory MP Andrew Mitchell (then a cabinet minister in the Coalition government).

The Tribunal observed: “Just satisfaction is provided by the declaration as to the infringement of Mr Woodhouse’s rights.”