The Briefing: NightJack


What happened?

The blogger NightJack had secured an interim injunction against the Times preventing it identifying him as DC Richard Horton. Last week, however, Mr Justice Eady overturned the injunction, ruling that "blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity", and dismissing arguments that bloggers have "a reasonable expectation of confidentiality".

What was new about the decision?

Eady said the case was the first to consider confidentiality for activities which have "a specific public element" - in this case blogging about life in the police. In such circumstances, a desire to remain anonymous does not amount to a legally enforceable right of anonymity. "Those who wish to hold forth to the public by this means often take steps to disguise their authorship," Eady said. "But it is in my judgment a significantly further step to argue, if others are able to deduce their identity, that they should be restrained by law from revealing it."

What does it mean for bloggers?

Supporters of Horton echo the arguments of his barrister that bloggers "would be horrified to think the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity". Jane Seaton, chair of the Orwell Prize, which Horton won, said: "It would be a great shame if this unnecessary exposure inhibited others from reporting from the frontline due to the increased risks involved".

Were there any other factors at play?

Eady was heavily influenced by the fact that the blogger may have breached regulations governing police conduct or the terms of his contract of employment.

What does it mean for the press?

claims the case is a victory for freedom of expression. "Freedom to report the truth is a precious thing both for the liberty of the individual ... and for the sake of wider society," said Eady.

While Horton lost on the grounds that he did not have a right to confidentiality, Eady also said that the Times's free expression rights would have trumped Horton's privacy concerns in any event.

What are others saying?

Others in the media are less enthusiastic about the Times's victory, claiming it is not in the interests of papers to expose bloggers. And, while he overturned the injunction, Eady admitted the NightJack blogs "could be characterised as political speech". "It is well recognised both here and [at the European court of human rights] that considerable value must be attached to a citizen's right to express his opinions on matters of this kind," he said.

Critics say the ruling puts the Times in an uncomfortable position of encouraging action against an officer who has behaved in much the same way as a journalistic source would, by revealing inside information from organisations.