High Court rules AFP warrant used in raid on News Corp journalist’s home was ‘invalid’

The High Court has made the decision to throw out the search warrant used by Australian Federal Police (AFP) in 2019 to search the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst.

The court ruled today that the search warrant was invalid and should be rejected on technical grounds. The raid on Smethurst’s home was the first in a series of battles between journalists and media outlets and the AFP, including a raid on ABC headquarters in Sydney.

The warrant used by the AFP to raid Annika Smethurst’s home has been ruled as invalid by the High Court

The AFP searched Smethurst’s home on June 4, 2019, following articles published in 2018 in the Sunday Telegraph. The warrant stated that Smethurst and the Sunday Telegraph ‘communicated a document or article to a person, that was not in the interest of the Commonwealth’.

The entire process began following a 2018 story which investigated an internal government proposal to give the Australian Signals Directorate more domestic power in its electronic intelligence.

Using the warrant, the AFP took data from Smethurst’s mobile phone. Smethurst and Nationwide News, the publisher of the Sunday Telegraph, sought in the case to have that material deleted, as well as have the warrant quashed. The data was found using searches related to the 2018 story.

The High Court ruled that the warrant misstated the substance of the laws it cited and that it failed to state the offence to which the warrant related with sufficient precision. Therefore, the entry, search and seizure was unlawful, ruled the court. The court did not rule that the material acquired by the AFP would need to be destroyed.

“A majority of the Court declined to grant the injunctive relief sought by the plaintiffs, pointing to the plaintiffs’ inability to identify a sufficient right or interest that required protection by way of a mandatory injunction,” the summary said.

Three judges said the material should not be kept, but a majority was not found in the matter. Further legal argument could come.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has come out in support for the ruling. MEAA federal president Marcus Strom said: “The raid was an attack on the public’s right to know what our governments do in our name. The warrant has been quashed on a technicality but the powers that enabled the raid remain.

“Let us not forget there was a raid on the ABC the next day.

“Given that any move to prosecute now lies in the hands of the Attorney-General, we call on Christian Porter to rule out any such prosecution based on an unlawful warrant.

“The result was also mixed, with a majority of High Court justices dismissing a request that seized materials be destroyed. This was based on an assessment by the judges that there was no sufficient right that required protection.

“Starkly read, this means here is no protection for public-interest journalism in Australia, said Strom.

Following the raids, a number of media executives spoke out in support of press freedom and formed the Australia’s Right to Know Coalition of Media Companies to push for legislative change.


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