JOINT PRESS RELEASE BY HARTE COYLE COLLINS, SOLICITORS & ADVOCATES & THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS (US)
26th MARCH 2019
Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates have lodged an application for Intervener status on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press with the High Court in Belfast in the ongoing judicial review application launched by filmmakers and journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
The Reporters Committee is a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., U.S., which has previously filed legal briefs representing the interests of The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reporters Without Borders, The Society of Professional Journalists, and more than 100 other news and journalism organisations. The Reporters Committee has in the past made submissions in support of the legal principles of freedom of the press across the spectrum of courts in the U.S., including the U.S. Supreme Court. It has also filed submissions in Canada and in the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Reporters Committee requested permission from the High Court on the 21st March 2019 to lodge written submissions in support of Birney and McCaffrey’s ongoing court challenge. They seek to challenge their arrests and searches of their homes and business premises, which occurred after they referenced an unpublished draft of a government report that was sent to them anonymously and used in their film, No Stone Unturned. The government report informed the film, which identified suspects in the Loughinisland massacre and revealed evidence of a police cover-up in the investigation into the murders. The court challenge raises important questions of press freedom and the use of police powers which may have the effect of inhibiting journalist investigations with legitimate public interest into alleged wrongdoing on the part of the police.
The interest of news organisations and journalists from the U.S. is significant. The film was directed and co-produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, who is an American and serves on the Reporters Committee’s steering committee. He has been informed that he is a suspect in this case and could potentially be arrested if he enters the United Kingdom. In addition, the documentary was first broadcast at the New York Film Festival on the 30th September 2017, and has generated reviews in U.S. publications. The outcome of these judicial review applications will undoubtedly have resonance among media organizations in the U.S. who, particularly in national security reporting, rely on legal protections for the publication of material, even if that material may have been acquired unlawfully by a source.
Patricia Coyle, solicitor of Harte Coyle Collins, representing the Reporters Committee said today:
“We welcome the opportunity to act on behalf of the U.S. based Reporters Committee to apply to the High Court in Belfast for status to make submissions on their behalf. We live in a fast-moving society by virtue of technology where news and information is no longer local but global. The protection of the integrity and accuracy of quality reporting and the freedom of the press have never been more important. The Reporters Committee is anxious to assist the journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in protecting that integrity, accuracy and freedom.”
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee, said today:
“The essence of press freedom is that the government may not retaliate against journalists for reporting on government misconduct. The decision to arrest Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey and to search their homes and workplaces — as well as the threat to arrest Alex Gibney — endangers the free press both in Ireland and other countries where journalists work to hold the powerful accountable. We hope the Belfast High Court grants the Reporters Committee an opportunity to defend this essential principle and submit a brief surveying U.S. law on this point.”
Harte Coyle Collins
Solicitors & Advocates
9-15 Queen Street