Free speech campaigners have expressed anger over new government proposals that could see journalists jailed for fourteen years for obtaining and publishing leaked documents. The overhaul of the Official Secrets Act-which will be replaced by the Espionage Act-would grant courts the power to come down harder on journalists that have received official material.

Prison potentially deployed as a deterrent

The Espionage Act, if it is approved, would deem documents containing 'sensitive' details about the United Kingdom be punished under national security laws.

Hypothetically, if a journalist leaked details of Brexit that are interpreted as harmful to the British economy they could be jailed for fourteen years.

In one of President Obama's final acts, he commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence, who leaked sensitive information regarding the US army to WikiLeaks. Leaking is a long established practice in journalism, but the new laws could prevent freedom of speech and censor journalists if they are implemented.

A legal expert told the Guardian: 'The new law is a clear attempt to silence and criminalise journalism. The changes to the law would undermine the most important principles of democracy. These proposals are frightening and will censor journalists'.

'It is unthinkable whisle blowers will be punished'

Jim Killock, head of Open Rights Group, said: 'It is unthinkable that whistle blowers will face jail for leaking information pertinent to the public. I find it shocking and appalling that only a handful of organisations were consulted before this paper was published. The proposed changes has huge implications for journalists in the United Kingdom'.

The proposals will be discussed until April 3rd, when a decision will be made in parliament to determine whether the Espionage Act will be implemented. Chairman of Culture, Media and Sport, Damian Collins, said: 'We need to examine these proposals very carefully. Sometimes, whistle blowing is in the national interest. We need to get the balance right to ensure we protect sensitive information but allow information in the national interest to be published without fear of punishment by the government'.