Northern Ireland: Arrest warrants for investigative journalists overturned


The High Court in Belfast has quashed the arrest warrants issued for investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The two were subject to police investigation and arrest for their work on a documentary on the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, in which members of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitary killed six people and wounded five.

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The Court found that:

"For the reasons given we concluded that the conduct of this hearing fell woefully short of the standard required to ensure that the hearing was fair. That was sufficient for our decision to quash the warrant. We wish to make it clear, however, that on the basis of the material that has been provided to us we see no overriding requirement in the public interest which could have justified an interference with the protection of journalistic sources in this case."

See the judgment: Fine Point Films and Trevor Birney’s Application, Barry McCaffrey’s Application and PSNI and Durham Constabulary for search warrants’ Application ([2020] NICA 35, pdf) and: the High Court's summary of the judgment (pdf)

Michelle Stanistreet, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists, which has campaigned for Birney and McCaffrey ever since their arrest, hailed the judgment as "an important and historic victory for all journalists working in the public interest."

See also: Loughinisland: Journalists search warrants wrongly obtained (BBC News, link):

"Police wrongly obtained warrants to search the homes and offices of two journalists at a hearing which fell short of fair standards, the High Court has ruled.

Senior judges identified "no grounds" for the authorisation of the warrants.

The authorisation led to the arrest of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan also stressed that the pair had at all times acted as investigative reporters adhering to their professional code."

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