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Report No. 93

4.2. The common law rule.-

But the common law rules of evidence did not give journalists a privilege (i.e. a right to refuse to answer certain questions in evidence). As Lord Denning observed, the professional rule cannot be elevated into a legal rule.1 This was clearly laid down in one of the English cases decided in 1963. It was held that there was no such privilege. In that case, two journalists were imprisoned for refusing to identify their sources before the tribunal inquiring into the Vassall Spy Affair.2 In another case of the same year, a third journalist was sentenced for similarly refusing to disclose the source, but escaped his sentence when the source that had supplied information to him, came forward .3

In 1975, Gordon Airs of the Daily Record was fined 500 pounds for refusing to identify a source when called as a witness in a "Tartan Army" trial.4

1. Attorney-General v. Mulholland & Foster, (1963) 1 All ER 767.

2. Attorney-General v. Mulholland & Foster, (1963) 1 All ER 767.

3. Attorney-General v. Clough, (1963) 1 All ER 420.

4. Anthony Richards Law for Journalists, (1977), p. 82. See also para. 4.4, infra.

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