Europe rights court finds Scotland in violation of media rights

Europe rights court finds Scotland in violation of media rights

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[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment text] Tuesday that Scotland has violated the media’s right to report on trials and challenge court orders. The ECHR found the UK and Scotland in violations of articles 10 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text], which provide for the right to free expression and the right to an effective remedy, respectively. Alan Mackay, a now-retired reporter for BBC Scotland [official website], sought to report on police and prosecutorial misconduct during a 2004 drug case. The judge barred Mackay and BBC Scotland from reporting on the incident during the trial, citing section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 [text], and refused to allow appeal on the issue. The ECHR noted:

[U]nder the present system, any Scottish court which makes a section 4(2) order is under no obligation to hear representations from the media and, even where it does hear such representations, there is no obligation upon it to do so within a reasonable period of time and in any event prior to the proceedings to which the section 4(2) order relates. … The Court has repeatedly stated that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and that, in that context, the safeguards guaranteed to the press are particularly important. … When proper consideration is given to what is at stake for the media when section 4(2) orders are imposed, it becomes apparent that current Scottish practice provides too slender a basis for the safeguards which are required in this context.

The UK may choose to appeal to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber within three months. Mackay and BBC Scotland did not seek, and were not granted, any forms of relief. The Independent reports [text] that the Scottish government is “already working with the courts to address the issues raised by this case.”

Protection and rights for journalists [JURIST news archive] continue to be of worldwide concern. In October, Canada broadened [JURIST report] journalists’ rights to protect sources. In April, Germany announced plans to enact legislation [JURIST report] meant to increase freedom of the press. In February, the Icelandic Parliament [official website, in Icelandic] began considering measures [JURIST report] aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. Last December, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] approved a bill [JURIST report] that would protect journalists’ abilities to shield sources in federal court proceedings. Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] ranked Finland number one in press freedom in 2010 [2010 rankings], with Iceland second, Canada twenty-first, Germany seventeenth, and the US twentieth. The UK ascended from the previous year, moving from twentieth to nineteenth.