Bloomberg Loses Landmark Privacy Case in UK Supreme Court

By Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily first joined the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times before turning her focus on the UK in 2020.
February 17, 2022Updated: February 17, 2022

Bloomberg has lost an appeal in the UK Supreme Court in a landmark privacy case over the media company’s reporting of a high-profile financial investigation.

Five judges on Wednesday dismissed the appeal brought by Bloomberg over the publication of information about a U.S. citizen under investigation by a UK legal enforcement body prior to charge.

A previous reporting restriction prohibiting the reporting of the individual’s name and any particulars or details likely to identify the individual also remains.

The judgment is unpopular among media and some legal firms, who argued that the precedent would promote self-censorship in media and enable high-profile individuals under investigation to stop media from reporting the facts early on.

Handing down the judgment, Nicholas Hamblen, Lord Hamblen of Kersey, said it was the first time such a case had to be addressed by the Supreme Court.

“Bloomberg relied on the public’s ability to observe the presumption of innocence, a legal presumption applicable to criminal trials. But in this different context, the question is how others, including a person’s inner circle, will react to the publication of information that that person is under criminal investigation,” he said.

“It is undeniable that a person’s reputation will ordinarily be adversely affected, impacting their right to respect for private life such as the right to establish and develop relationships with other people.”

Ben Stephens, Lord Stephens of Creevyloughgare, and Hamblen, said in a written judgement (pdf) that while there is a “uniform general practice” by bodies such as the police not to identify those under investigation before charge, judges had voiced concerns for some time “as to the negative effect on an innocent person’s reputation of the publication that he or she is being investigated by the police or an organ of the state.”

Reacting to the judgement, Bloomberg said it’s “disappointed.”

“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,” a Bloomberg News spokesperson said.

Mark Stephens, a media specialist at law firm Howard Kennedy, said the Supreme Court had “gone out of its way to restate the law” and had given a “definitive ruling” following a series of cases touching on similar issues.

“The new nannying approach of the courts is saying ‘You, the public, can’t be trusted to know this information and infer the presumption of innocence and so we’re going to deny you the information so you don’t think the worst of an individual who is under investigation prior to any charge,’” he told the PA news agency.

Stephens said the judgment would mean an “open season” for “high-profile individuals and the rich and wealthy” to get injunctions against the media to “stop the revelation that they are being investigated for crimes or wrongdoing.”

He added that there is “a measure of chillingness” over the approach to the law, noting that witnesses often come forward when they know about something in the press.

The individual who brought the case against Bloomberg, identified in court documents as ZXC, is a U.S. citizen and a permanent UK resident. He was the chief executive of a regional division at a multi-national public company, identified as X Ltd, which activities in a particular country had been the subject of a criminal investigation by a UK law enforcement body (the “UKLEB”) since 2013.

Bloomberg in 2016 published an article almost solely based on a 15-page document the reporter had obtained.

The confidential Letter of Request, sent by the UKLEB to the foreign country, sought banking and business records in relation to X Ltd and a number of individuals, including ZXC. It said the UKLEB’s investigation concerned possible offences of corruption, bribery, and fraud, but noted that none of the individuals had been charged with any offence.

PA Media contributed to this report.