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Editors warn landmark privacy ruling poses ‘real risk’ to UK journalism

Dawn AlfordThe Society of Editors has hit out after the UK Supreme Court ruled that a person under criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy prior to charge.

The court unanimously dismissed an appeal by Bloomberg over its reporting of an investigation by an unnamed UK law enforcement body into allegations of corruption, bribery and fraud by a company in a foreign country (X Ltd).

The Society has criticised the court’s ruling, warning the decision will have “far-reaching” implications for British journalists.

The claimant, known as ZXC, brought a claim for misuse of private information arising out of a story published by Bloomberg in 2016 relating to the activities of the company in a particular country for which the claimant’s division was responsible.

SoE executive director Dawn Alford, pictured, said: “Today’s ruling that a person under criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy will have far-reaching implications for the British media.

“Not only does the ruling fundamentally go against the principle of open justice, but there is also a real risk that the bar is now so high for privacy cases that legitimate public interest journalism will go unreported.

“It is well-documented that identifying suspects can lead to other complainants coming forward alongside witnesses for any future prosecution or defence.

“In addition, it is vitally important that the actions of the police remain open to scrutiny.”

“Journalists take seriously their responsibilities under the Contempt of Court Act and Defamation Act.

“While the Society recognises that anonymity is appropriate in certain circumstances, the default position should always be in favour of openness rather than secrecy.”

A spokesperson for Bloomberg added: “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.”