A ruling by the Court of Appeal that those under investigation by the police have the right to remain anonymous until charged will serve to help the rich and powerful evade scrutiny, the Society of Editors has warned.
The court today ruled that it was rejecting an appeal by news giant Bloomberg in the case of an American businessman who had successfully sued following a report he was under investigation. As part of his claim, the chief executive, who the courts have said cannot be named, insisted he had the right to privacy while under investigation. The original hearing confirmed his claim and awarded him £25,000 in damages.
Now in their ruling, three Appeal Court judges have confirmed his right to anonymity, referring to the 2018 Cliff Richard case against the BBC where Mr Justice Mann ruled a person under investigation had a right to privacy.
In today’s ruling Lord Justice Simon stated: “I would take the opportunity to make clear that those who have simply come under suspicion by an organ of the state have, in general, a reasonable and objectively founded expectation of privacy in relation to that fact and an expressed basis for that suspicion.
“The suspicion may ultimately be shown to be well-founded or ill-founded, but until that point the law should recognise the human characteristic to assume the worst (that there is no smoke without fire); and to overlook the fundamental legal principle that those who are accused of an offence are deemed to be innocent until they are proven guilty.”
Reacting to the ruling, Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray said: “ This judgement will do nothing to lift the fog of confusion in the media that surrounds whether a person under investigation by the police or any other state body should be granted anonymity until they are charged.
“The Cliff Richard ruling undoubtedly created a chilling effect on reporting such matters and this will continue.
“The Society of Editors would maintain that the public has a right to know if someone is under investigation and that shrouding inquiries in a cloud of secrecy only serves to create rumour and speculation.
“The risk is that the rich and powerful will use these rulings to hide from public gaze and to ensure witnesses and others who may be helpful to an investigation are unaware of events.
“We should resist also the injustice of the police being allowed to pick and choose which names of those under investigation are released which would only serve to taint them with the tag of apparent guilt.”
The ruling – to be found here – did however state: “The Court must not allow itself to be drawn into confining the important rights of the press under article 10 (European Convention on Human Rights), so that it ceases to be the public watchdog of freedoms in a democratic society and becomes the muzzled lapdog of private interests.”