The recent decision in the High Court between Sir Cliff Richard OBE and the BBC is a stark reminder to the media that Article 8, a right to one’s private and family life, must be upheld.
In this action, Sir Cliff successfully claimed that both the BBC and South Yorkshire Police had violated his rights both under privacy and the Data Protection Act 1998 through the coverage of a police raid on his home following allegations of historic sexual abuse allegations.
Sir Cliff did not face any criminal charges and maintains his innocence. He claimed damages because his life and finances had been radically affected by what had happened. In May 2017 he reached a settlement with South Yorkshire Police who accepted liability but the BBC continued to resist the claim. On 18th July 2018, the High Court awarded damages and accepted that there had been an infringement on his right to privacy.
The impact of publicising investigations on people’s lives
It is clear that the impact of a criminal investigation on an individual can cause both reputational and financial damage to parties. In particular allegations of a sexual nature are particularly sensitive and those accused are often concerned about the reactions from family members, friend’s, employers and colleagues. They often feel isolated and concerned that it will be perceived as “there is no smoke without fire.” It is clear that media reporting precharge can fuel this and can create a false impression of both the individual and the circumstances of the offence.
When an allegation is made the police are often at an early stage in their investigations. They are interviewing witnesses and seizing evidence. The impact of media reporting before these enquiries have concluded can be potentially detrimental to an accused and can cause great stress and unnecessary upset.
This judgement should be welcomed in the criminal legal community. If someone is suspected of a criminal offence they are just that a suspect and should be granted the benefit of privacy to assist the authorities in their investigations. This is clearly amplified in the case of Sir Cliff as he is in the public eye but nonetheless, for the general public the impact of having this information in the public domain is no less harmful.