Next Government must abandon plans for “authoritarian” Espionage Act that could see journalists jailed for embarrassing politicians

10 May 2017

Liberty has called on the next Government to abandon the Law Commission’s proposals for an Espionage Act which could see journalists and whistleblowers jailed for years if they reveal information that merely embarrasses ministers.

Responding to the consultation on the proposals, Liberty – which successfully represented GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun – condemns the planned inclusion of “economic matters” as official secrets and the drastic increase in jail time for journalists and whistleblowers.

The damning written evidence points out that no minister or MP has ever been prosecuted under the existing Official Secrets Acts, despite regular leaks by politicians. Instead, the Law Commission’s proposals will make it easier to punish journalists – since the Government would no longer even have to prove a revelation was damaging.

Liberty wants journalists and whistleblowers, including intelligence and security officials, to be allowed to defend the exposure of official secrets when it is in the public interest. Where they reveal wrongdoing, they must be able to defend themselves in court.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “The Law Commission’s plans would tie our democracy in chains to spare the blushes of the powerful.

“Under them, revealing any scrap of information that embarrasses the Government could land whistleblowers and journalists in jail. Yet when ministers make strategic leaks for their own political advantage, no one bats an eyelid.

“Locking people up for holding politicians to account is the policy of authoritarian regimes. The next Government must abandon these plans and allow brave whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing in the public interest.”

Liberty’s response to the consultation says:

  • Journalists and whistleblowers, including intelligence and security officials, must be allowed to defend their actions in court when they are in the public interest. Without whistleblowers, errors are covered up rather than corrected, leading to destructive and dangerous policies.
  • Allowing prosecutions even if revelations don’t damage national security would mean whistleblowers could face charges for leaking anything labelled an official secret.
  • The plans would make it easier to prosecute those who reveal Government wrongdoing, instantly criminalising public interest journalism and whistleblowing.
  • The inclusion of “economic matters” as official secrets is deeply concerning. Punishing people for leaking information that doesn’t seriously harm national security is unjustifiable.
  • Government leaks are often tolerated when they benefit the powerful, even if they breach the Official Secrets Acts – yet no ministers or MPs have been prosecuted.

 

Contact: Liberty press office on 0207 378 3656 / 07973 831 128 / pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

Notes to editors

Liberty’s full response to the Law Commission’s consultation can be found here.