Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service, has responded to an editorial published in The Times on Saturday 24 January 2014.
Your leader on Saturday questioned the prosecution of journalists, at a time when there are growing demands on our resources.
These cases represent a tiny fraction of the 730,000 prosecutions annually. The underlying question posed by your leader, however, is I suspect a deeper one - whether the compliance of journalistic endeavour with the law is a matter that should merit the attention of prosecutors at all?
A free press is a vital guarantor of our democracy and the rule of law. Courageous and diligent journalists help expose scandals and hold public authorities and individuals to account. Indeed the recent rise in the number of serious sexual cases is, in part, a result of the excellent work undertaken by journalists in this newspaper in exposing the scandal of child protection in some of our cities.
The law affords a great deal of protection to journalists who break the law in pursuing public interest investigations. Our guidance makes clear that journalists who act in this way are unlikely to be prosecuted. However journalistic practices are not above the law either.
The work of two parliamentary select committees and the subsequent Leveson inquiry revealed serious questions over the techniques used by some journalists which may have amounted to systematic and flagrant breaches of the law.
In these circumstances a police inquiry was inevitable as was the subsequent duty on prosecutors to decide if the evidence was sufficient to prosecute as the law stands.
In completed prosecutions across all the related operations there have been 10 journalists convicted of one or more matters, one accepted a caution and seven have been acquitted of all matters while one has seen all matters against them dropped before reaching trial. The CPS has decided that 25 journalists who were the subject of files submitted by the police, should not face prosecution and no further action was taken.
When including non-journalists the total numbers are: 36 people convicted on one or more counts, three have accepted cautions, 15 have been acquitted of all matters and one has seen all matters discontinued before reaching trial. In all 47 people have faced no charges after decisions by the CPS to take no further action. Of course there are a number of cases yet to be completed, but the majority of CPS decisions were made within three months of a full file being received.
It is of course right that the CPS is subject to scrutiny and comment. But just as the vital role of a free, independent, press must be protected and the difficult line that journalists have to follow in pursuit of the truth understood, so too must our role be understood in upholding the rule of law without fear of, or favour to, anyone.