Reputation Update: Sir Cliff Richard launches Petition seeking anonymity before charge

Posted: July 4, 2019

On 1 July 2019 Sir Cliff Richard (a longstanding Simkins client) helped launch a Petition seeking anonymity for those accused of sexual offences until charge. It is important to note that the Petition, which is available online (click here), includes a carve-out allowing for the lifting of anonymity in exceptional circumstances. Speaking at the launch, Sir Cliff described how devastating it had been for him when the BBC publicised a police search of his then UK home, following an allegation dating back to the 1980’s.

The Petition’s stated aims are:

  • To protect the reputations of all innocent suspects, whether well-known or not, from the lasting stigma of a false sexual allegation.
  • To provide balance in the criminal justice system since complainants have anonymity for life.
  • To prevent the suspects becoming targets of opportunist and deluded claimants.
  • To prevent police searches of the homes of suspects who have not been charged being publicised.

In Sir Cliff’s case, it was two years before the CPS announced that he would not be charged. During that intervening period, however, Sir Cliff had to deal with worldwide publicity and speculation. Had he not been publicly named, it is likely that the investigation would have concluded in a fraction of the time, and most importantly, Sir Cliff would not have had to deal with the anxiety of his good name being publicly tarnished by the allegation.

After the CPS announced that there would be no charge, Sir Cliff (represented by this firm) brought a successful privacy claim in the High Court against the BBC. The Judgment (click here) states that Sir Cliff (and by implication others) had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the police investigation, including the search of his home. There is other case law that states that a person also has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to arrest; Sir Cliff was never arrested.

So, the starting point is that people under investigation, including if they have been arrested, have a reasonable expectation of privacy, unless there is a stronger countervailing reason that outweighs the individual’s right to privacy. Each case will be determined on its own facts. The Petition (click here), which is itself a compromise, it being argued by many that anonymity should be granted until conviction, seeks to ensure that people accused of a sexual offence don’t, save in exceptional circumstances, have to deal with the fallout of being publicly named unless they are charged. We live in an Internet age where allegations, however unmeritorious, can remain online forever. Sir Cliff and others explained that they are attempting to ‘rebalance a system that has gone astray’.

Gideon Benaim, Partner, Simkins LLP