Last week the BBC announced that it would not be appealing the High Court's finding in July that Sir Cliff Richard was entitled to damages of £210,000 for breach of his privacy by the BBC. The High Court decision has prompted much discussion on the state of the law in this area in England and Wales and whether amendment is required to protect media freedom in reporting on criminal investigations and the suspects involved. What impact, if any, does this decision have on Irish Privacy Law?
In 2014, the BBC ran a news story regarding a raid on Cliff Richard's home. South Yorkshire Police (SYP) raided the singer's home, due to an investigation regarding historic child sexual assault allegations. SYP tipped the BBC off about the impending raid. After being informed of the raid, the BBC used a helicopter to film it, and ran the story every quarter of an hour during the day. Richard had not been charged with any crime and the investigation was subsequently dropped.
Richard, in turn sued the SYP and the BBC. The claim focused on the breach of his right to privacy. The claim, like many privacy lawsuits before it, followed the same format; the plaintiff suing a media outlet while citing Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), while the defendant, uses Article 10 of the ECHR as the basis of their defence.
In the ECHR, Article 8 refers to the right to respect for private and family life, while Article 10 refers to freedom of expression. In this case the English Courts found that the media had over stepped their mark. High Court judge Mr Justice Mann who presided over this case, stated that ''Public figures are not fair game for any invasion of privacy''. Judge Mann stated that the BBC had overstepped the mark due to the ''excitement of its scoop''. The Judge awarded damages of £210,000 to Richard (£190,000 in general damages and £20,000 in aggravated damages).
Breach of privacy cases often relate to the activities of the tabloid press. This case is different, given the fact that it involved a state broadcaster. Could the Irish Courts have come to a similar decision?
Irish Privacy Law v English Privacy Law
The English approach deals with the reasonable expectation of privacy as an initial threshold, which the plaintiff must satisfy to be able to invoke the protection of Article 8. Then, this is balanced against competing interests.
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