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Police Search Powers & Journalistic Material (PACE)

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act ('PACE') journalistic material, which includes television programmes/un-broadcast rushes, is given special protection from seizure by the police. If the police want to seize such material, they must apply to a judge. Normally, the holders of the material, that is the broadcaster/programme-makers are entitled to make representations to the judge and argue against disclosure if they so wish.


Before a judge will order material to be handed over to the police, he/she must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a serious criminal offence has been committed, that the evidence would be admissible at trial and would be of substantial value and that disclosure would be in the public interest. In practice, however, the courts often order the broadcaster and journalists to disclose such material whenever the police make an application.


Refusing to comply with a court order to disclose documents would amount to a contempt even though to do so may reveal an anonymous source. The court may in any event order the naming of the source.


In Scotland the Police and Criminal Evidence Act does not apply but if police seek a warrant for recovery of journalistic material there is now a convention that notice would be given to journalists or broadcasters so that representations could be made to the Court.


Any enquiry or approach from the police or authorities in relation to programme-making activities must be referred immediately to the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.