A judge at the Central Criminal Court has refused to make production orders sought by the Metropolitan Police against four media organisations.
Journalists from the Times, ITN, Sky News and the BBC each interviewed the “Bethnal Green schoolgirl” Shamima Begum in the al-Hawl refugee camp in Northern Syria in February. Nothing had been heard of her since her arrival in Syria with her two friends in 2015. The interviews were broadcast and published online. During this period the Home Office removed Ms Begum’s British citizenship and she cannot return home.
The police sought access to the unpublished parts of the interviews and the journalists’ notes in an investigation into Ms Begum under the Terrorism Act 2000.
HHJ Dennis QC found that he had the power to make the orders sought but declined to do so on the basis that there was no pressing social need for the interference with the journalists’ ECHR Art 10 rights which the orders would represent.
The judge emphasised the importance of investigative journalists in war zones retaining their perceived neutrality, which could be undermined if court orders were routinely made for them to hand over their journalistic material. He did not consider that the offending in issue was at the highest level and recognised that there was no prospect of Ms Begum being arrested in this jurisdiction in the foreseeable future.
Gavin Millar QC represented three of the media organisations, the fourth (the BBC) adopting their submissions. Adrian Waterman QC represented Shamima Begun at the hearing, having successfully argued on behalf of her solicitors, Birnberg Pierce, that she was entitled to be represented.