Bloomberg has lost a privacy case at the UK’s highest court, which ruled on Wednesday that suspects in a criminal investigation have the right not to be named by media organisations until charges are brought.
In a ruling that will have far-reaching implications for the British media, the Supreme Court found that Bloomberg had breached the privacy rights of a suspect who was the subject of a criminal investigation, by naming him in an article.
The judges had to consider whether an individual who has not been charged with an offence has the right to privacy under human rights laws in the early stages of a police investigation, before criminal charges are brought.
The Bloomberg case centred around an unnamed businessman, known only as ZXC, and his employer who were being investigated by a UK law enforcement agency.
The UK agency sent a confidential letter to a foreign state asking for information and documents relating to the businessman. Bloomberg obtained a copy of the letter, and named the man in an article as well as detailing the subject of the investigation.
The businessman had sued Bloomberg for misuse of private information and the High Court and Court of Appeal both found that Bloomberg had breached the businessman’s Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The media organisation appealed the decisions to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers say the Supreme Court ruling could affect the ability of media organisations to report the early stages of a police investigation.
The Supreme Court said on Wednesday it accepted that a person under criminal investigation had a reasonable expectation of privacy because of the potential impact on their reputation and private life.
Lord Nicholas Hamblen and Lord Ben Stephens, the justices giving the ruling, said: “For some time, judges have voiced concerns as to the negative effect on an innocent person’s reputation of the publication that he or she is being investigated by the police or an organ of the state.
“It is widely accepted as a matter of public policy that there is a negative effect on an innocent person’s reputation in publishing that he or she is being investigated by the police or another state organisation,” the justices said.
Hanna Basha, partner in the privacy and media team at law firm Payne Hicks Beach, said the decision would be “unpopular for the media as it will impact how they are able to report on the early stages of the majority of criminal investigations.
“It is a welcome decision for those suspected of crimes who are subsequently not charged as they no longer have a reputational cloud hanging over their heads simply because of the investigation. If suspects are not charged then, in the majority of cases, no one will ever find out about the investigation,” she said.
Bloomberg said in a statement: “We are disappointed by the court’s decision, which we believe prevents journalists from doing one of the most essential aspects of their job: putting the conduct of companies and individuals under appropriate scrutiny and protecting the public from possible misconduct.”