Statement on the BBC's decision not to appeal the ruling in the Sir Cliff Richard case.
The BBC is already on record in saying that we are sorry for the distress that Sir Cliff has been through. We say so again today. We fully appreciate the impact this has had on him. There are lessons for the BBC in how we reported this story and we will think very carefully about our approach in the future - both in tone and style. We recognise there are things we got wrong - even if all the facts we reported were right.
Despite this, the judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom. In his ruling, the judge himself stated “the case is capable of having a significant impact on press reporting”. It raises significant questions over how the media can report investigations in the future - and creates huge uncertainty over what might qualify as being in the public interest.
We accept the BBC and the rest of the media have a duty to be sensitive to the rights and position of those who are under investigation, and in some cases there will be little public interest in naming individuals. However, this ruling will limit the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations - many cases of which have resulted in further complainants coming forward. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and it will undermine the principle of the public’s right to know. These concerns have been widely echoed by many other media organisations.
With these significant principles at stake, the BBC has taken legal advice from very experienced counsel on the prospects of a successful appeal. The advice we have received is not promising. The legalities are complex, but essentially even though we are advised and believe that the judge erred in law in finding that broadcasters and journalists normally have no right to publish the name of a person who is the subject of a criminal investigation, it will be very difficult to persuade the Court of Appeal to isolate this issue of principle from the judge's broader findings in this case. The judgment has been written in a way that makes the two indivisible.
At best, an appeal could recognise that the judge made an error of law on the important issue of the media being able to name suspects, but is unlikely to overturn his overall decision given all the other factual findings made against the BBC. This would still leave much uncertainty about what the media can legitimately report. At worst, the Court of Appeal could endorse the findings of the trial judge.
Given this advice the BBC will not be appealing. It would inevitably mean an expensive legal cul de sac and one that would simply prolong Sir Cliff’s distress. Instead the BBC is writing today to ask the Government to consider a review of the law in this important area to protect the right to properly and fairly report criminal investigations, and to name the person under investigation. There is a fundamental principle of press freedom at stake here and one upon which we believe Parliament, as our lawmakers, should decide.