Media freedom issues considered before Tribunal in Julian Assange FOI Act appeal

13 Mar 2023

Public Law and Judicial Review

Today, the First-tier Tribunal Information Rights is considering issues of media freedom in an appeal by the Italian investigative journalist, Stefania Maurizi, who is seeking disclosure of information in correspondence about Julian Assange between the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Swedish Prosecution Authority (SPA), and between the CPS and the US authorities. She is represented in the Tribunal by Estelle Dehon KC.

The CPS refused to disclose information on the basis of the confidentiality of its role assisting the SPA and the US authorities in their different extradition proceedings, and a potential “chilling effect” on the extradition process if the information is. The appeal will consider:

  • new evidence, compiled and published by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, that the preliminary investigation of Mr Assange by the SPA was not objective, impartial or independent and involved disregarding exculpatory evidence and proactively manipulated evidence; and
  • evidence, based on statements by the UK’s National Union of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and a coalition of press freedom and human rights organisations, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, that the US extradition request is a significant risk to journalism and media freedom, because it criminalises as espionage the modern techniques of source protection used by all investigative journalists.

Maurizi, an investigative journalist for 17 years currently working for the major Italian daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, has been investigating the Assange case for 13 years, using multi-jurisdictional FOIA requests in order to obtain primary information. She has written an award-winning book on the subject. While she has obtained some primary documents, much remains obscured.

This appeal follows on from a similar FOIA request made in 2015 and a subsequent appeal decided in 2017 (discussed here). In order that the public interest balance could take into account the significant change in circumstances since that time, Ms Maurizi made her updated request in December 2019. The Tribunal heard evidence in person from a CPS witness in January 2023 and will hear closing submissions via a remote session today.