Landmark Supreme Court Privacy Ruling Protects Suspects in Criminal Investigations
suspects in criminal investigations have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ before being charged, Supreme Court justices have ruled in yet another blow to freedom of the press.
The Bloomberg news agency published an article in 2016 about a businessman after he leaked details of a letter sent by a British law enforcement agency to a foreign government asking for help in an investigation into possible corruption, bribery and fraud.
The businessman, managing director of a regional division of a company, sued Bloomberg for misuse of his private information and was awarded £25,000 in damages and an injunction protecting his identity.
In a landmark Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, judges dismissed Bloomberg’s appeal and found the businessman’s privacy rights outweighed the principle of free speech.
“As a legitimate starting point, a person who is the subject of a criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to information relating to that investigation,” Lord said. Hamblen.
“Bloomberg relied on the public’s ability to observe the presumption of innocence, a legal presumption applicable to criminal trials. But in this different context, the question is how others, including a person’s entourage, will react to the publication of information that this person is under criminal investigation.
“It is undeniable that a person’s reputation will generally be adversely affected, impacting their right to privacy, such as the right to establish and develop relationships with other people.”
Today’s decision echoes the case of Sir Cliff Richard, who sued the BBC and was awarded £210,000 in damages after the company released footage of a police raid on his home. He was under criminal investigation but was never charged.
This is the first time the Supreme Court has considered the issue of privacy.
Responding to the judgment, Hanna Basha, partner in the privacy and media team at law firm Payne Hicks Beach, said: “This is an unpopular decision for the media as it will impact how they will be able to report on the early stages of most criminal investigations.
“This is a welcome move for those suspected of crimes who are subsequently not charged as they no longer have a cloud of reputation hanging over their heads simply because of the investigation. If suspects do not are not charged, in the majority of cases, no one will ever know about the investigation.”
Some early media reports of the rape investigation involving Mason Greenwood did not name the Manchester United striker, at a time when the suspect’s identity had been widely publicized on social media.
The Society of Editors pointed to the “chilling effect” on media reporting following the Cliff Richard ruling, and said after Bloomberg’s defeat in the Court of Appeals that “the rich and powerful will use these rulings to hide from public view and to ensure that witnesses and other persons who may be useful to an investigation are not aware of the events”.
Following the decision, a spokesperson for Bloomberg News said: “We are disappointed with the court’s decision, which we believe prevents journalists from doing one of the most essential aspects of their job: submitting the conduct companies and individuals to appropriate scrutiny and protect the public from potential misconduct.”