Journalist wins Supreme Court press freedom victory over police

In its ruling the court cited Finland's constitution and European human rights laws to support the Helsingin Sanomat reporter in her legal fight against authorities.

File pic of computer keyboard with handcuffs and judge's gavel / Credi: iStock

Finland’s Supreme Court has ruled that police can’t use electronic equipment seized from a journalist’s home as part of their preliminary investigation into how she got classified material about the country’s intelligence capabilities.

In its ruling the court said the materials will stay restricted from the police because they could reveal some sensitive information about the Helsingin Sanomat journalists’ sources.

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent in Finnish law, but journalists do have a constitutional right not to disclose their sources of information.

The ruling is also in line with international human rights laws.

“The European Court of Human Rights has consistently emphasized the role of the media in a democratic society” the Supreme Court points out in its ruling.

“Particularly important is freedom of expression in the media when the activities of the authorities are not public in nature and the role of the media as a critic and guardian of the state has therefore been emphasized.”

What is the case about?

Central to the case against journalist Laura Halminen is a story she wrote in December 2017 about Finland’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, based on decade-old documents.

The Defence Forces had asked police to investigate, and police searched her home after she called emergency services to tackle a small fire.

During the search, 19 items including computers, phone, notebooks and USB memory sticks were taken by officers, which the reporter claimed contained information about her sources.

Halminen said the police search was illegal because they had no warrant to authorise it, and that police actions threatened the protection of her confidential source on the story.

How the case was handled earlier?

Until now there have been conflicting rulings by lower courts on this case.

In 2018 the i jusDistrict Court ruled that police had rightfully to conduct the search, and
rejected Halminen’s request to get back the items that were confiscated.

Then the Appeal Court took up the case, and backed the decision of the lower court, saying earlier this year that police acted lawfully when they raided Halminen’s home.