As reported in the Press Gazette, the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has said he is “not persuaded” that there needs to be a public interest defence to protect journalists who fall foul of the U.K. Bribery Act by paying for stories.
Clarke, who was speaking at the Society of Editors Conference on Monday, was asked by Richard Caseby, the managing editor of the Sun newspaper, to consider the introduction of a public interest defence for journalists under the Bribery Act.
It was the Sun newspaper that exposed Munir Yakub Patel, a court clerk, who accepted £500 from one of its reporters for fixing a motoring offence. Patel subsequently became the first person to be convicted of an offence under the Bribery Act. Caseby complained that, as there was no public interest defence, the Sun reporter conducting the sting was himself potentially at risk of prosecution – and, given that he had personally authorised it, so was he as managing editor of the newspaper.
However, Clarke said that he was not minded to consider a change to the law:
“We didn’t invent that law, all we did was bring it up to date. There has never been a public interest defence for bribery. Your journalist could have been arrested for bribery any time in the last 100 years.”
Instead, Clarke explained that the public interest considerations would be taken into account when the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”) considers whether to give the go ahead to bring a case to court. He went on to state that he could not imagine the DPP sanctioning such a prosecution, as a jury would probably acquit in such circumstances and, if not, a judge would opt for a conditional discharge.
Image © Crown Copyright 2011