Cliff Richard wins privacy battle against BBC

Judgment was handed down this morning in the High Court in London in Sir Cliff Richard's case against the BBC for infringement of his privacy, following the broadcast of a police raid on his home and disclosure of the fact that he was subject to a police investigation into historic sex abuse.  Ultimately, Sir Cliff was never charged with any offence.

In a careful and very detailed judgment, Mr Justice Mann decided that a person who is under investigation by the police, but has not yet been charged, has a right (under Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights) to keep that information private.  This is important confirmation of the trend of one or two other fairly recent decisions, where the Court has taken a similar line.  

Further, the Court held that Sir Cliff's right to privacy was not outweighed by the BBC's right to freedom of expression (under Article 10, ECHR).  

Interestingly, and in a novel development, the Court acknowledged that "the failure of the public to keep the presumption of innocence in mind at all times means that there is inevitably going to be stigma attached to the revelation" that a person is under investigation.  This, by way of contrast with some older cases in which the Court has placed reliance on the legal theory that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, is a welcome recognition of how such a disclosure by the media plays out in real life.  Irreparable damage can be caused by disclosure of the fact that a person is under investigation, even if ultimately s/he is not prosecuted or even charged.  

This decision is therefore a very welcome development in confirming that those who are subject to a police or regulatory investigation are entitled to prevent the media (or anyone else) from disclosing that fact, at the very least unless and until they are charged with some offence or regulatory infraction.  

The Court was also doubtful about the reliability of a number of the BBC witnesses, including in particular their reporter, whom the Judge described as: "capable of letting his enthusiasm get the better of him in pursuit of what he thought was a good story so that he could twist matters in a way that could be described as dishonest in order to pursue his story."

The BBC is currently considering whether to appeal.

A copy of the full judgment is here, and an executive summary here.  


Key Contacts

David Engel

David Engel

Partner, Dispute Resolution
London, UK

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