The BBC decision not to try to appeal against the judgment in Sir Cliff Richard case ends the legal battle between the corporation and the star.
However, it raises a series of difficult questions about the way in which the corporation managed the history and the legal actions that followed.
In 2014 the South Yorkshire police raided Sir Cliff’s home in Berkshire as part of an investigation into a complaint of historical sexual assault.
The BBC had been advised. He was appointed Sir Cliff and filmed the raid using a helicopter.
Sir Cliff, who was never arrested or charged, sued the BBC for breach of privacy. The corporation defended the case on the basis of their right to freedom of expression and argued that it had the right to cover the story, in the public interest.
Last month, Sir Cliff won, the judge ruling his privacy had been infringed in a serious way by the BBC.
The BBC did not appeal the decision
Reaction to the Sir Cliff case
An application for permission to appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, and the appeal that followed, would have cost the BBC a small fraction of the money has already been spent to defend itself in the case. However, it would have prolonged the “distress” that the BBC recognises Sir Cliff has suffered.
The BBC has already paid out more than £1.5 m in legal costs and damages. That does not include Sir Cliff “special damages” claim that covers the economic loss sustained as a result of the BBC coverage. These include a book lost supply and the cost of professional advice in dealing with the media.
The precise amount of these damages are still to be determined, but the BBC’s total bill could rise to around £2.3 m once these and their own legal costs are taken into account. ‘Turn against freedom of the press’
On July 26, the BBC failed in an initial attempt to obtain authorization to appeal the decision of the judge of first instance, the judge of the Mann.
The corporation sets out 11 grounds of appeal relating to the judge’s findings of law in relation to its assessment of Sir Cliff right to privacy and the balancing exercise between that right and the BBC’s right to report the story.
There were also reasons related to the award of £190,000 in general damages, and the BBC was ordered to pay a contribution to the South Yorkshire Police.
The failure meant the BBC’s only remaining option was an application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal directly.
That is done “on paper”. In other words, a single judge considers that the statement of the grounds of appeal, and has to decide whether there is a real possibility of success in respect of all or some of them, or if there is some other compelling reason to allow an appeal.
If the BBC had been given permission to appeal, the appeal would have been restricted to arguing that the judge hearing the case, judge Mann had committed errors of law. In other words, the legal argument alone. There would be No witnesses, and the hearing likely would have lasted a couple of days.
The announcement today raises difficult questions for the BBC.
Following the judgment in Sir Cliff, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth, said: “This judgment creates a new case law and represents a dramatic shift against the freedom of the press and ultimately the ability of journalists to report on the police investigations, which in some cases has led to more claimants.
“This affects not only the BBC, but all media of communication of the organization. We do not believe that this is compatible with the freedom and the freedoms of the press – something that has been at the heart of this country for generations.
“For all these reasons, there is an important principle at stake. That is why the BBC is looking for in an appeal.”‘Fundamental Principle’
The BBC’s new statement that holds that position, but says that “experienced defender”, has warned that the chances of success in the appeal “are not promising”.
This is despite the advice that the judge erred in law in finding that broadcasters and journalists do not normally have the right to publish the name of the person who is the subject of a criminal investigation”.
So, instead of trying to appeal, the BBC wants Parliament to legislate on what he describes as “a fundamental principle of the freedom of the press”.
Many wonder why the BBC has decided not to seek permission to appeal against a judgment of its director of news and current affairs felt represented a radical change against the freedom of the press and the reduction of scrutiny of the police.
And why, if it was the right thing to do to run the original story, vigorously contest Sir Cliff legal action in the court and remain bullish on the possible justification of an appeal after the sentence, is that now the right thing that you should not try to appeal through the courts.
The BBC program, the answer is that it has been said that he was not going to win an appeal.
While many in the media believe strongly that the trial restricted the freedom of the press and the BBC received the support among the newspapers that are often critical of the same, an important sector of the public do not agree with the BBC position. Supported Sir Cliff and do not like the way he had been treated by the BBC.
The BBC statement did not mention the public opinion. However, in the battle between the national treasury and the national broadcaster, it is difficult not to conclude that the opinion of the public, who pay the licence fee that funds the BBC, it may well have been a significant factor.