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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Member acquitted in Salmond trial

Press Release
Release date: 10 January 2021

The Chartered Institute of Journalists welcomes the decision to formally acquit Scottish professional journalist Mark Hirst of criminal charges over the content of a video blog he made when commenting on the end of the trial of former SNP Leader Alex Salmond.

The Jedburgh sheriff court said he had no case to answer.

The Institute has supported Mr Hirst throughout his ordeal and criticises the Scottish prosecuting authorities for wrongly perceiving something as criminal or threatening in his political commentary.

Institute President Professor Tim Crook said “Mark Hirst is a respected professional journalist and a member of our Institute. Freedom of expression in the UK means that he has the right to exercise his skills with political activism in the media.”

Professor Crook added: “Prosecuting authorities must be very careful to avoid over-deploying their powers of arrest, charge and prosecution in respect of journalistic and political communications.

“A sledgehammer has been picked up here when it should have been left in the toolbox.”

He said: “The implications for Mark Hirst have been devastating.”

He added:  “We are very conscious that poor decisions by investigating and prosecuting authorities have a chilling effect on the vital public interest of protecting freedom of expression.

“This is particularly the case with political debate, argument and campaigning.”

Mr Hirst’s acquittal was welcomed by Scottish National Party MP for East Lothian, Kenny MacAskill, who is a former Scottish Government Justice Minister. He said on his Twitter feed: “The Crown once again tarnished but justice prevails. This is a pattern and an abuse of privilege.”