The decision by the High Court in Northern Ireland that it is “minded to quash” the warrants obtained by police to carry out raids on the homes and office of Belfast journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey is a welcome sign that at least one branch of the justice system in Northern Ireland is prepared to respect and vindicate press freedom.
The journalists, whose groundbreaking documentary, No Stone Unturned, revealed evidence of blunders, cover-ups, and collusion between the police in Northern Ireland and UVF killers, were arrested in a Stasi-style operation by members of the PSNI last year over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in the film about the murders of six men in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.
The raid on the journalists’ homes and the manner in which police took documents and items that were not even related to the documentary was likely to have the effect of intimidating journalists in Northern Ireland and further afield.
As we are too well aware on this side of the border, protecting press freedom is not just about protecting journalists; it is also about protecting whistleblowers. As former Brexit secretary David Davis put it at the High Court hearing: “Press freedom is the most fundamental freedom in modern society because it protects all the other freedoms.”
That makes yesterday’s decision by the court not just a victory for press freedom but also for common sense.