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NUJ urges Braverman to change law after journalists’ arrests

Suella Braverman 2022Ten organisations including the National Union of Journalists have urged Home Secretary Suella Braverman to change the law after the arrest of three journalists.

The NUJ has joined forces with civil rights campaign groups including Liberty, Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International to launch an independent review into the Public Order Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

The call comes after Hertfordshire Police officers last week arrested LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles while they covering a Just Stop Oil demonstration on the M25.

All three were arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”, introduced under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, but were later released without charge.

In an open letter to Mrs Braverman, pictured, the signatories warned plans under the Bill to create more powers for police to restrict the right to protest would further “curtail individuals’ right to freedom of expression”.

They wrote: “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 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.”

In response to the letter, the Home Office spokesman told PA: “The Home Secretary has been clear that we need to do more to protect the rights of the law-abiding majority to go about their business.

“Not only is the serious disruption we have experienced recently extremely dangerous for all involved, it costs the taxpayer millions and is draining police resources.

“The police need, and have requested, strengthened powers so they can tackle this rise in guerrilla protest tactics.

“That’s exactly what the Public Order Bill will do and it will also help protect press freedoms – previously protesters have tried shutting down printing presses which is completely unacceptable.”