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United Kingdom: Cliff Richard Wins Privacy Case Against BBC and South Yorkshire Police

(Sept. 11, 2018) On July 18, 2018, Sir Cliff Richard OBE was awarded £210,000 (about US$270,360) in general damages after the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was held liable for infringing his privacy rights over the filming and broadcast of a search of his UK property by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) in relation to allegations of historical child sexual abuse. (Richard v. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) & Anor [2018] EWHC 1837 (Ch).) Sir Cliff was never arrested or charged over the allegations, and the investigation, known as Operation Kaddie, was subsequently dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) due to insufficient evidence. (Statement in Operation Kaddie, CPS (June 16, 2016).)

The judge, Justice Mann, ruled in this case that Sir Cliff had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” against both the SYP and the BBC. (Richard, EWHC 1837, paras. 252, 261.) Consequently, Sir Cliff’s rights to privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as brought into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998 were engaged both when his home was searched and when that information was turned over to the BBC by the SYP. (European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as amended by Protocols Nos. 11 and 14 (ECHR) art. 8, Nov. 4, 1950, ETS 5; Human Rights Act 1998, §§ 1 & 2; Richard, EWHC 1837, para. 263.) Furthermore, and critically for the implications of this decision, he ruled that, “as a matter of general principle, a suspect has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to a police investigation.” (Id. para. 248.)

Having established that Sir Cliff’s article 8 rights were engaged, Justice Mann went on to rule that, although the BBC has a right to freedom of expression (as provided for under article 10 of the ECHR) and was owed special consideration due to its nature as a journalistic institution (as specifically mentioned in section 12(4) of the Human Rights Act), Sir Cliff’s rights to privacy “were not outweighed by the BBC’s rights to freedom of expression.” (ECHR, supra, art. 10; Human Rights Act 1998 § 12(4); Richard, EWHC 1837, para. 315.) Consequently, the judge concluded that “the BBC is liable for infringing Sir Cliff’s privacy rights when it disclosed, by broadcasting, the fact that Sir Cliff was the subject of an investigation for historic sexual abuse and that his property was being searched in connection with that investigation.” (Richard, EWHC 1837, para. 323.)

After consideration of the damage done to Sir Cliff’s reputation (id. paras. 334–346), finances (id. paras. 400–408), and health (id. para. 352) by the infringement on his right to privacy, Justice Mann awarded £210,000 in damages from the BBC (id. para. 453).

Following the decision, media outlets have claimed that the ruling, and specifically the precedent that a suspect generally has a reasonable expectation of privacy while under police investigation, will fundamentally change the way police investigations are covered in the news. In a statement on July 18, 2018, the BBC news director, Fran Unsworth, said that she does not believe that the ruling is “compatible with liberty and press freedoms” because “[i]t means police investigations, and searches of people’s homes, could go unreported and unscrutinised. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and we fear it will undermine the wider principle of the public’s right to know. It will put decision-making in the hands of the police.” (Press Release, Fran Unsworth, BBC Director of News and Current Affairs, BBC Statement Regarding Ruling in Sir Cliff Richard Case (July 18, 2018).)

Prepared by Ben Hills, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.