Solicitors secure a ‘victory for press freedom'

Solicitors helped secure a massive victory for journalists in the European Court of Human Rights yesterday.  The right of journalists to protect their sources has been strengthened as a result of this victory.

The case in effect confirmed the importance of protecting sources that provide information to journalists and that it is a crucial aspect of press freedom. The European Court of Human Rights demonstrated this through overturning a ruling that would have forced Dutch journalists to give police the identities of participants in illegal car races.

The Dutch journalists were investigating street races for a magazine called Autoweek and took pictures of those who were involved but edited the final images to as to hide the identity of those participants.

The police however, were simultaneously investigating the incidents and demanded that the photos be handed over to the themselves so they might pursue a conviction.
“This is a case where people were breaking the law holding illegal street races, but the police officers following the cars didn’t bother to jot down registration numbers, relying instead on journalists instead in order to bring people to book,” said media lawyer Mark Stephens, who organised an intervention of media and press freedom groups in the case.

“The court’s ruling shows that where you have incompetent or lazy policing, journalists are not going to be there to fill the vacuum.”

Autoweek, which is published by the Dutch company Samoma Uitgevers, brought the case against the police, initially it caused widespread concern as an earlier judgement from the court appeared to be tightening the previous guarantees for journalists for the protection of sources.

This right to protect sources was initially established in the U.K. in a case that concerned a trainee journalist revealing his confidential source. The trainee journalist from The Engineer magazine was successful in protecting the identity of the person who was giving him details of the financial status of a company.

Legal experts and solicitors say that the European Court has strengthened the law on source protection through this judgment.

“This ruling was an acid test for the court and for media freedom across Europe,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, barrister for the intervening media organisations. “It sets a high benchmark for protection of journalistic materials and will force police and prosecutors across Europe, from Russia to France, to change their practices.”

About the Author:
Antonia Torr is a graduate from the University of Leicester, with a degree in Law with European Union Law. Having enjoyed writing from a young age, Antonia has received numerous awards that act as a testament to her quality of writing. If you are struggling to find a Solicitor for journalists, please visit our website at
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