Jason Beer QC successful for South Yorkshire Police in Sir Cliff Richard case
The claim concerned the BBC’s coverage of a search of Sir Cliff’s home carried out by South Yorkshire Police in August 2014. The BBC named Sir Cliff and covered the raid with live reporting on the ground and aerial footage shot from a helicopter above his home. The search related to an allegation of an offence dating from the 1980s, which Sir Cliff denied at all times – he was never arrested and in 2016 the CPS announced that no charges would be brought against him.
At an early stage of the proceedings, South Yorkshire Police admitted liability for making disclosures of private information to the BBC, paid substantial damages to Sir Cliff and made a statement in open court. The BBC denied liability to Sir Cliff, and brought contribution proceedings against South Yorkshire Police – seeking an indemnity for any damage which they were found to have caused Sir Cliff. For its part, South Yorkshire Police brought contribution proceedings against the BBC, seeking a contribution towards the damages that it had paid to Sir Cliff (and its costs liability to Sir Cliff).
The trial before Mann J accordingly concerned (i) whether the BBC was liable to Sir Cliff for violating his right to privacy and / or under the Data Protection Act 1998, (ii) if so, certain issues of quantum – viz. general damages, aggravated damages, and issues of principle arising from identified claims for special damages, (iii) whether the BBC was entitled to an indemnity from South Yorkshire Police in respect of its liability to Sir Cliff, and (iv) whether South Yorkshire was entitled to a contribution from the BBC in respect of its payment to Sir Cliff (and its liability to Sir Cliff in costs).
Mr Justice Mann held that:
1. The BBC was liable to Sir Cliff for infringing his privacy rights: The BBC’s public interest defence failed.
2. The BBC should pay general damages of £190,000 and aggravated damages of £20,000.
3. Legal causation was established in respect of certain aspects of Sir Cliff’s special damages claim.
4. The damages for which both the BBC and SYP were liable should be apportioned 65:35 as between the BBC and SYP.
In broader terms, the judgment is significant: (i) for the police service and the media, because it holds that, although whether or not there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a police investigation is a fact-sensitive question (and is not capable of a universal answer one way or the other), as a general rule a suspect has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the police investigation of him; and (ii) for the media, because it holds that a claim for violation of privacy can include damages for damage to reputation (and such a claim is not within the sole province of the law of defamation), and because of the size of the award of general damages - £190,000.
Jason Beer QC specialises in high value and high profile claims for the police service. In this case he led media law specialist Adam Wolanski of 5RB, and was instructed by Rachel Jones, a Partner and Head of the Police and Prison Law Team at DWF.