Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Irish Journalist in court for defending confidential sources

Sunday Tribune Northern Editor in Court Appearance
The Northern Editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune Newspaper, Suzanne Breen, appeared at Belfast’s Laganside Courts today to defend against an action by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, demanding that she hand over her newspaper internal memoranda, mobile phone and computer records and journalistic records relating to the Real IRA.
A request yesterday by the PSNI, to have the proceedings held in camera, was rejected by the judge in the case, Thomas Burgess.
Members of the National Union of Journalists protested outside the court in support of their colleague. The Irish Secretary of the NUJ, Seamus Dooley, attended the proceedings, as did Christopher Stanley, of British-Irish Rights Watch.
The National Executive of the NUJ have issued a statement in support of Breen. “This NEC applauds the stand taken by Suzanne Breen in resisting legal attempts to reveal journalist sources. NEC notes support from the Sunday Tribune and fully expects management to continue their fight to defend both her and press freedom. NEC reaffirms its belief that journalists and journalism should not be used as extensions of the state.” It concluded, that it pledged to give “all practicable support” to Suzanne in her case.
Irish secretary Dooley said yesterday, “This case is deeply worrying both because of the sweeping nature of the order being sought and way in which the case is being approached by the police. We are particularly concerned that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has sought for the entire case to be held behind closed doors and that they have made an application for a preliminary in camera hearing in the absence of Suzanne Breen’s legal team.”
At today’s hearing, Judge Burgess delayed the proceeding to allow the defence team time to prepare arguments in support of their client. The evidence from the PSNI to the court, to justify their need for the material, has been seen by the judge, but has been denied to defence lawyers on security grounds. The defence argue that if they cannot see the submissions by the PSNI, they will be unable to adequately argue in defence of their client.
The judge has ruled on proceedings to date, but has sealed his judgement until it is clear where the judicial proceedings lead as further hearings are held.
The defence will not have a week to submit their arguments to the court and the PSNI several days to respond.
The court will reconvene on May 29.
Below, is part of a statement of that appeared on the NUJ website in support of Suzanne Breen.
The NUJ is seeking the support of the International Federation of Journalists, Amnesty International, trade unions and other civic society organisations as well as media organisations for a major campaign in support of Suzanne Breen and the Sunday Tribune.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, said: "The NUJ has a long history of standing up for journalists who are being threatened by an arm of the state over protection of their sources.
"We express our total solidarity with Suzanne and urge all members to support the campaign in her defence."
Other protection of sources cases
Messages of support for Suzanne Breen may be sent to protectsources@nuj.ie

© Joe ONeill 2009
Suzanne Breen after today's court appearance, talks to journalists outside Laganside Courts, flanked on the left by Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, National Union of Journalists and right, her solicitor Joe Rice.

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