Blackstone silks face off in BBC freedom of expression case

Blackstone Chambers’ David Pannick QC has won judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Justiceon behalf of the BBC.

David Pannick QC
David Pannick QC

The broadcaster instructed Pannick to bring JR proceedings against the Government after it refused one of its reporters, Dominic Casciani, permission to hold and broadcast a face-to-face interview with Babar Ahmad, who is currently detained at HMP Long Lartin while the US tries to extradite him on terrorist charges.

Pannick argued that there was a fundamental public interest in allowing the interview to be broadcast and that the Government had breached the right to freedom of expression in article 10 of the Human Rights Act by refusing the BBC permission.

The barrister said that Ahmad had been detained for seven years without trial while awaiting extradition and that the court had awarded him £60,000 for injuries received during the course of his arrest.

Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC, appearing for the Secretary of State, explained that permission had been refused on the basis that it may cause distress to victims of terrorist acts.

According to the judgment, the Secretary of State “considers that allowing a face-to-face interview with Mr Ahmad would pose a significant risk of causing distress and anger to victims of terrorist acts in this country and abroad. That risk would be further increased if a recording of that interview were to be broadcast”.

In his judgment Mr Justice Singh, who shared the bench with Lord Justice Hooper, highlighted: “The European Court of Human Rights has frequently stressed that, in view of the importance of the right to freedom of expression, restrictions upon it have to be ’established convincingly’.”

Mr Justice Singh
Mr Justice Singh

Ruling in favour of the BBC, Singh J found the Justice Secretary’s ruling to be disproportionate and therefore incompatible with article 10.

The judgment stated: “We accept the claimants’ contention that, as a result of the particular combination of circumstances, this case is highly exceptional. By saying that, we make it clear that we do not consider that the present case should be regarded as setting any precedent for other cases. It is because of the unusual combination of facts that the present case, in our view, justifies departure from the normal policy.”

Legal line up:

Blackstone Chambers’ David Pannick QC, leading Tom Cleaver of the same set, instructed directly by the BBC.

Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC, leading Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain, instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the Secretary of State.

Doughty Street Chambers’ Phillippa Kaufmann QC instructed by Bhatt Murphy partner Simon Creighton for interested party Babar Ahmad.