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Sir Cliff and the BBC: should right to privacy trump freedom of expression? A balancing act

13 April 2018

Sir Cliff Richard yesterday launched his court battle to sue the BBC for breach of his right to privacy, enshrined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, after they filmed and broadcast footage of his home being searched and publicly named him as a suspect in historical sexual abuse allegations, despite him not being arrested or charged. The BBC argues that its coverage in August 2014 was in the public interest and that Sir Cliff had no right to anonymity. A claim brought against the police for sharing the information with the BBC has already been settled for five figure sum.

The trial is expected to take two weeks to be heard and the court’s decision on how to balance an individual’s right to privacy against the media’s freedom of expression is eagerly awaited. A victory for Sir Cliff could have wide-reaching implications on the media’s ability to identify an individual under investigation before they are charged. The decision is also likely to be relevant in relation to action taken by organisations when dealing with allegations made against current or former members of staff, whether this is in the context of a complaint or civil claim.

This case highlights the challenge and importance of managing the rights of all those involved in any investigation, whether it be a private or police investigation, whilst also ensuring an effective and transparent process is conducted. Organisations walk a tightrope in the difficult attempt to balance individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression whilst ensuring that a thorough and appropriate investigation process is followed. Involvement and cooperation with the press should be considered very carefully and advice taken before any statements are issued.

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