Law unto themselves part one…

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Phil Parry as judge
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‘I must be careful not to fall foul of the law with this story!’

During a 40 year journalistic career (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, has always known the importance of the law, and this is now underlined by news today of growing concern at the time it might take to undo policies by the outgoing right-wing government in Poland – especially its installation of incompetent party sympathisers as judges and the flouting of stringent EU rules. 

Earlier Phil has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of history and teaching the subject is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting. 

 

For journalists (and now it is clear for voters too), legal rules and impartiality are absolutely FUNDAMENTAL.

For me, for example, classrooms were sat in, exams were taken, court cases were reported on and, after mistakes, harsh tellings off were administered.

I have LOST large amounts of money in libel cases, when the court has not been swayed by the argument of my barrister, and WON large amounts, when it has.

The legal rules are fundamental

You must have a thorough knowledge of the law, because it is is critical for a journalist, as well as for others.

It is vital to know what can and cannot be said (the laws of libel), information that can be made public from a court (broadly speaking you can give what the jury HEARD during a trial, but not what the jury DIDN’T HEAR), privacy rules, copyright law, spent convictions, as well as child protection regulations.

Donald Tusk’s victory should lead to judicial freedom in Poland – but it will take ages…

All of this has been thrown into sharp relief for me by events in Poland.

Donald Tusk’s centre-right Civic Coalition have turfed out the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) group in Poland.

Last month the newish Government sacked the directors of the state television and radio outlets, as well as the Government-run news agency. It also wants to restore independence to the judiciary after senior posts were stuffed with incompetent judges who happened to be PiS supporters.

The Polish Supreme Court – but how many are Law and Justice (PiS) supporters?!

These are BIG jobs, however, and while it is obvious that voters did not like what occurred, there is mounting alarm at the time it might take.

PiS judges were sworn in during the night by a compliant party President, so that senior levels of the judiciary could be packed with supporters.

EU rules supporting an independent judiciary were ignored, and admonishments did nothing.

The original, independent, judges would turn up for work and find someone else sitting in their seat!

The actions were NOT popular

One Polish judge was backed after he had opposed his own suspension.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said the removed judge should “be able to continue to exercise jurisdiction in the criminal proceedings before him” and added that cases must be reassigned to him.

Pekka Pohjankoski, a researcher in European law from the law faculty at the University of Helsinki, said: “This case is empowering the national judges”.

A ‘referendum’ was held in Poland with an extremely leading question

All of this happened in the name of ‘de-communisation’, and other legal changes were just as blatant.

A ‘referendum’ was put to the public, asking an extremely leading question (when the neutrality is always closely scrutinised by lawyers): “Do you support the acceptance of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, according to the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy”.

The PiS had followed the example of Hungary’s populist Victor Orban (although disagreeing with him on key issues, like Ukraine) when it won power in 2015, but did it even more crudely.

You tamper with the courts system at your peril…

Yet whatever the label, voters saw through this tampering with the courts system, and journalists like me can breathe a sigh of relief too.

Yet what has been done will take a LONG time to put right..

 

Details of Phil’s astonishing decades-long journalistic career (when it was central that legal rules were followed), as he was gripped by the rare and incurable neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in an important book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now.

‘BUY MY BOOK!’

Regrettably publication of another book, though, was refused, because it was to have included names.

‘Law unto themselves part two’ is tomorrow, where Phil looks at the increasing use of legal tactics to frustrate investigative journalists like him.