Australian court nixes bid to declare police raid invalid

Sydney: An Australian court on Monday dismissed a legal bid by public broadcaster ABC to have a raid by the Australian Federal Police at its Sydney offices in June last year declared invalid.

The raids were linked to leaked military documents related to alleged crimes — including the killing of children, committed by Australian special forces deployed in Afghanistan, which “The Afghan Files” series of reports published by ABC in 2017 were based on.

Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham said in the ruling that the police sought the cooperation of ABC and asked them to provide the concerned documents, Efe news reported.

She added that the raids were carried out in the presence of the broadcaster’s attorneys and that the files were accessed through an ABC employee.

“Finally, given the communication between the parties, and events leading up to the execution of the warrant, there could have been no doubt that the focus of the warrant was in relation to offences related to the Afghan Files stories,” the judge said in her ruling.

ABC news director Gaven Morris called the judgment a blow to the way Australians have access to information in their society and their democracy and said urgent law reform is clearly required.

A whistleblower involved with the stories has faced separate legal proceedings, the ABC said.

The raid on the ABC offices came a day after the police raided the house of News Corp journalist Annika Smethhurst over a 2018 article about the government’s plan to grant more surveillance powers to intelligence agencies for spying on Australian citizens.

In the wake of the controversy, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced a series of measures in September to protect journalists who disclose sensitive information pertaining to security or defence so that they could only be prosecuted in extreme cases.

Porter said that if “the CDPP (Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions) independently considers that there is a public interest in a prosecution for one of the relevant offences involving a journalist, the consent of the Attorney-General will also be required as a separate and additional safeguard.”

However, he did not mention journalists affected by the June raid or rule out possible legal proceedings against them.