Journalists who obtain leaked official material could be sent to prison under new proposals

The Law Commission sought advice from media groups including Guardian Media as well as civil liberties groups including Liberty and Open Rights Group.

Other groups consulted included the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 as well as several government departments and senior politicians and lawyers.

Jim Killock, chief executive of the Open Rights Group, said: “It is clearly an attempt to criminalise ordinary journalism. The idea seems to be to criminalise the act of handling leaked documents which would prevent the public from knowing when the government is breaking the law.

“It is fundamentally un-British to try to control journalists in this way. It is completely unreasonable to equate any leak of secret information as an act of espionage.”

The Law Commission’s proposed changes would replace four official Secrets Acts dating back to 1911. The changes do not allow for a statutory public interest defence.

The Law Commission recommendations state that there should be “no restriction on who can commit the offence,” including hackers, politicians and journalists.

A Law Commission spokesman said it was “both misleading and incorrect” to suggest journalists were at any greater risk under the planned law changes.

The spokesman added: “The current offences contained in the Official Secrets Act 1911 are broad. We are seeking views on how the law could meet 21st century challenges whilst also ensuring people don’t inadvertently commit serious offences.

“Our provisional recommendations make a number of suggestions to improve the current laws around the protection of official data and we welcome views in our open public consultation.”

Leave a Reply