Monday, September 05, 2022

Labour doesn't want to protect journalists after all

Last year, in response to several highly-publicised abuses by police, then-Labour MP Louisa Wall put a bill to protect journalists' sources in the ballot. It was lucky enough to get drawn, was given a first reading in October and sent to select committee. Today, the committee reported back. But rather than the usual amendments and recommendation to pass or not pass, they had this to say:

We received a letter from the member in charge of the bill on 20 August 2022 informing us of her intention to withdraw the bill. The member told us that there are insurmountable drafting issues with the bill, and that the bill would not achieve its intended policy outcome. In accordance with the member’s wishes, we therefore do not recommend that the bill proceed.
What are these "insurmountable drafting issues"? The Ministry of Justice's Departmental Report on the bill goes over the issues, which basicly boil down to the definition of "journalist" and associated questions around the scope of the bill, the proposed requirement to seek a production order for some information before seeking a search warrant, procedural requirements around production orders and search warrants, and the imposition of a general duty to protect the rights of journalists. That same report also included multiple solutions to all those problems, though it would require the bill's sponsor to make some choices (some of which might have been "this section doesn't work, ditch it"). The same report includes as a giant piece of fearmongering the consequences on non-police search powers, but those would also seem to largely be addressed if the core issues were, and by a few minor technical amendments.

But all that would have been work. And rather than do that work, or make those choices, the bill's sponsor (now Ingrid Leary, after Labour forced Wall out of Parliament) just decided to dump it. Which I guess tells us how much - or how little - Labour really cares about protecting journalists.

As for the solution, hopefully we'll see a tweaked version of this bill put back in the ballot by a Green MP. Because unlike Labour, they would actually care about it.