The Supreme Court has ruled that, in general, a person under criminal investigation (but who has not been charged) is entitled to privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation. The ruling comes after a suspect in an ongoing fraud case sued media company Bloomberg for misuse of private information.
Criminal defence solicitors – England & Wales
If you need a criminal defence solicitor, please contact us at Ashmans. We specialise in criminal defence law and can represent you throughout proceedings. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The facts of the case
In 2016, media company Bloomberg published an article on its website about the actions of a company, X Ltd, and one of its employees, a US citizen referred to as ZXC. At the time, UK law enforcement agencies were investigating the company’s transactions in a foreign country, for which ZXC’s division was responsible.
As part of this investigation, UK law enforcement sent a Letter of Request to the country in question. This is a request for mutual legal assistance. The letter asked for banking and business records in relation to X Ltd, ZXC and other individuals. It also outlined why ZXC was under investigation. Crucially, the letter was headed confidential, as per UK guidelines.
However, a copy of the letter somehow ended up in the hands of a Bloomberg journalist, who wrote an article drawing almost exclusively on the information contained within it. Bloomberg failed to recognise the highly confidential nature of the letter, and the possible consequences of breaching privacy laws.
ZXC subsequently brought a claim against Bloomberg for misuse of private information. ZXC was awarded damages of £25,000. Bloomberg took their case to the Court of Appeal, but it was dismissed. However, Bloomberg was given permission to take their appeal to the Supreme Court. The judgment was recently published.
The Supreme Court’s decision
The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision. The judgment says that, in general, a person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that information. Therefore, any person who is arrested, interviewed or even just suspected of a criminal offence has a right to privacy before they are charged.
The case of ZXC has parallels to that of Cliff Richard, who was investigated by the police for sexual offences. In 2014, a BBC reporter found out that Richard’s home was to be searched by the police. The search was televised live on air, with significant coverage given to the story. The police investigation was later dropped, but Richard said the publicity radically affected his life and finances. He successfully sued the police and BBC for violating his rights both in privacy and under the Data Protection Act.
Criminal defence solicitor – England & Wales
If you been accused of a crime in the UK – but you have not been charged – then you have a right to privacy. If you are taken to the police station, you also have a right to free legal advice.