The UK government has failed to honour a commitment by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg to use new legislation to enforce the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s (ICoCo) recommendation that use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by police to access journalists’ phone records should require judicial approval.
Both Prime Minster David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May supported the recommendation and Mr Clegg pledged it would be introduced by an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill (SCB) now going through Parliament.
But it was announced this week that the ICoCo recommendation could only be included in a new bill after the General Election.
Instead, a clause to be inserted in the SCB when it receives its third reading in the House of Lords this Monday allows for the establishment of a RIPA code of practice which applies only to serious crime and so would probably not include tracing the sources behind the Andrew Mitchell “Plebgate” stories which led to the uncovering of the police practice in the first place.
But Home Office Minister Karen Bradley went further and said the government had no intention of introducing legislation to require prior judicial approval for police access to journalistic sources in all circumstances and it would be up to the industry to lobby for such a condition to be included.
SNS director John McLellan said: “It is extremely disappointing to say the least that the UK government has so quickly reneged on its promises to deliver a protection for whistleblowers which is very much in the public interest.
“A commitment to include vague legislation after a General Election is no commitment at all and the government has some explaining to do for what looks like political back-sliding of the worst kind.”