NUJ signs joint letter to Home Secretary after police arrests of journalists
Ten organisations have highlighted the chilling effect of arrests on freedom of expression and urged Suella Braverman to reconsider plans under the Public Order Bill.
Following the wrongful arrests of three journalists for “suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”, the National Union of Journalists has raised concerns over the arrests by Hertfordshire constabulary with the Home Secretary.
The union has also joined others in calling on her to commission an independent review into the public nuisance offence, and reconsider plans under the Public Order Bill.
The letter to the Home Secretary:
Dear Secretary of State,
We are writing to you to express concern at the policing of journalists at Just Stop Oil protests that took place on Tuesday 8 November.
As has been reported in the media, three journalists covering the demonstrations, including a reporter from LBC, were arrested by officers from Hertfordshire Constabulary under suspicion of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”.
Whilst we understand that no further action has been taken against the journalists in question, it is clear that the officers making these arrests knew that the individuals were journalists. In a statement referring specifically to the journalists’ arrests, Hertfordshire police said:
“Seven people were arrested yesterday. Of these seven, two were subsequently charged and two were released on police bail with conditions. Three of them were released with no further action following extensive enquiries.
Though as a matter of course we do not comment on the circumstances surrounding individual arrests, these circumstances did give us grounds to hold them in custody for questioning in order to verify their credentials and progress our investigation.”
These arrests threaten press freedom in the UK. Journalistic ethics require journalists to protect their sources. Arresting journalists for simply attending a demonstration is unjustifiable, unlawful, and highly likely to be a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998. Preventing or deterring journalists from reporting on issues of public interest such as environmental protests – will furthermore create a chilling effect for freedom of expression and access to information.
The offence of intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance was placed on a statutory footing by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The offence was criticised by Big Brother Watch, Liberty and others during the passage of the legislation through Parliament for being too broad in scope and unduly limiting a wide range of democratic activities.
The offence criminalises any act or omission that causes, amongst other things “distress”, “annoyance”, or “inconvenience” but also the risk of someone feeling those things. The arrests of journalists this week regrettably evidence our concern that this power is dangerously broad and poses a threat to British democracy and respect for fundamental human rights.
In light of these events and in the context of creating additional police powers to restrict the right to protest, we call on you to commission an independent review into the new public nuisance offence and both pause and reconsider plans to curtail individuals’ right to freedom of expression through the Public Order Bill, which will disproportionately affect communities for whom this right is most urgent. A copy of this letter has also been sent to the Chief Constable for Hertfordshire Constabulary and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Mark Johnson, Big Brother Watch
Sam Grant, Liberty
Kevin Blowe, Netpol
Tom Brake, Unlock Democracy
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK
Griff Ferris, Fair Trials
Daniel Gorman, English Pen
Azzurra Moores, RSF
Fiona Rutherford, JUSTICE
Ruth Smeeth, Index on Censorship
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ