In a landmark judgment released today, a High Court judge has ruled in favour of Sir Cliff Richard in his privacy case against the BBC and South Yorkshire police. What does this outcome mean for future expectations of privacy during police investigations?
The High Court judgment in favour of Sir Cliff Richard has been widely reported, with the focus largely on the financial damages awarded and the enormous impact the investigation, BBC coverage and lawsuit has had on Sir Cliff’s career.
But aside from the effect of the case on those involved, the ruling itself has significant implications for privacy law when it comes to anyone finding themselves under police investigation in future.
Privacy Law vs. Freedom of Expression
In terms of the case against the BBC, the task that fell to the ruling High Court judge, Mr Justice Mann, was to weigh up two competing human rights.
The first is that of Sir Cliff’s right to privacy, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as introduced into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
The second is the competing right of the BBC’s freedom of expression, arising under Article 10: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
In weighing up these two rights, the judge found that the starting point for those subject to police investigation is an expectation of privacy, so in this case, ruled in favour of Sir Cliff.
The judge ordered that the BBC should pay 65% of Sir Cliff’s damages, while the police should pay 35%.
This is a significant ruling which means that for the first time, those subject to police investigations will now have an expectation of privacy, unless there is a reasonable justification otherwise.
As well as having important ramifications for the media in terms of how they report on cases, this judgment should be paid very careful attention by police forces across the country.
Exceptions to the Rule
Previously, the police have been very quick to pass details of investigations on to the media. Now, they will have to think carefully about whether this is operationally justifiable – for example, where someone is accused of being a sexual predator, and the police want other victims to come forward.
However, these will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and for cases where it is determined that the police or the media have breached privacy law unjustifiably, claims for damages may arise.
In the case of Sir Cliff v the BBC, the court found that the breach was not justified, so Sir Cliff won large damages.
This case is likely to be talked about for a long time to come, not just for its impact on the reputation and livelihood of an exceptionally famous man, but also as an important step-change for privacy standards in a world of news-on-demand.