NUJ concerned about “dire consequences” for journalists following court’s refusal to permit intervention

  • 07 Mar 2024

The union had hoped to intervene in a legal challenge on sexual offences suspect reporting.

The National Union of Journalists has been refused permission to intervene in a legal challenge which could criminalise journalists in Northern Ireland.

Under Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, which came into force on 28 September 2023, media and journalists are prohibited from naming sexual offences suspects for 25 years after their death and are required to remove retrospectively publications which were made in the past. There is no exception for public interest journalism and the law gives suspects, rather than media, the right to apply to court for permission to publish. Reporting of sexual offence allegations could, in some circumstances, even result in criminal sanctions for individual journalists. 

The NUJ believes that the legislation may have a far-reaching consequence for our members and restrict their ability to engage in public interest journalism. As such, we instructed our lawyers to ask the High Court to intervene in proceedings in which the legislation was being challenged by other media outlets. Disappointingly, Mr Justice Humphreys refused our application to intervene as a Notice Party as he considered that sufficient evidence was available to the court about the potential impacts on press freedoms.

Whilst we feel that the NUJ could have made a material contribution to the proceedings and provided a meaningful voice for our members, whether freelance or employed, we will continue to monitor developments in these proceedings very closely. We will keep under review any future opportunities to contribute to the proceedings and to promote the interests of our members on this important issue. 

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

“We are extremely disappointed by the court’s decision not to permit the NUJ to participate in proceedings which could have dire consequences for journalists; we do however intend to remain vigilant on this issue." 

The NUJ’s solicitor Olivia O'Kane, instructed Paul McLaughlin KC and Michael Neeson BL.  

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