Notice of application for order: confidential journalistic data

Part of Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:15 am ar 18 Rhagfyr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 11:15, 18 Rhagfyr 2018

The Minister shook himself. Amendments 3, 10 and 20 would provide that when journalistic data is sought as part of an overseas production order, the journalist is put on notice of application. Clause 12(1) of the Bill requires that when confidential journalistic data is sought as part of an overseas production order, the respondent is put on notice. The respondent in this context would be the communication service provider from which law enforcement agencies or prosecutors are seeking content data.

The Government intended to ensure that where an application for an overseas production order was made there was a presumption that any person affected by the order, which would include the journalist themselves, was also put on notice. That was to be included in the relevant court rules, as is the case with domestic production orders, including those made under PACE, the Terrorism Act and POCA.

I am pleased to see that the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Torfaen recognise that, should all journalists be put on notice when an overseas production order is served in respect of an application that relates to their data, certain exemptions must be in place. It is important that the requirement to provide notice for an overseas production order is not absolute. The difference between the Bill and PACE is that PACE production orders are served directly on the respondent themselves—that is, the journalist. Where PACE requires notice to be given to the respondent, notice has been given to someone who will of course be made aware of the order when it is served, as they are the person who will be required to comply with it. In practice, that will be the person handing over the data to law enforcement agencies.

However, in the Bill the orders are served directly on the CSP that owns and controls the data. Giving notice to a third party—the journalist, who is not required to act on the order—should not stand in the way of issuing an overseas production order where there are good reasons for notice not to be given. I believe that the judge is well placed to determine whether the journalist should be notified, and the circumstances in which it will not be appropriate for that to be the case.

The exemptions set out in amendment 10 are that

“the applicant cannot identify or contact the journalist…it would prejudice the investigation if the journalist were present…it would prejudice the investigation to adjourn or postpone the application so as to allow the journalist to attend, or…the journalist has waived the opportunity to attend.”

Those exemptions mirror what is currently in place in court rules for domestic production orders through PACE, and they seem a sensible approach. For example, we do not want to oblige law enforcement agencies into notifying an ISIS blogger or journalist when clearly that could prejudice the investigation. Those exemptions are fundamental to retaining a robust and sensible approach to evidence.

I thank Members for their detailed arguments, and for the time that they have taken to consider the protection of journalists. I reiterate that both the notice requirements and the important exceptions that underpin them will be provided for, as they are currently, in court rules. However, I am happy to consider whether they can be provided for in the Bill. I am happy to discuss that with hon. Members as we proceed to Report, if they will withdraw the amendment.