Commissioner of Police of Bermuda & Anor v Bermuda Broadcasting Co Ltd & Ors
Reference: The Times, 24 January 2008
Court: Privy Council
Judge: Lord Hoffmann, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Mance and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
Date of judgment: 23 Jan 2008
Summary: Breach of confidence - Public interest - Media law - Freedom of the press - Police investigations - Injunctive relief - Allegations of corruption
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Instructing Solicitors: Charles Russell for the Appellant; Simons Muirhead Burton for the Respondent.
Bermuda police documents from an investigation into the state Housing Corporation were unlawfully removed and supplied to journalists. A television station operated by the First Defendant broadcast an interview with the Bermuda DPP in which the contents of the stolen documents were put to him. The Second Defendant’s newspaper then ran articles quoting from the missing files. The publications amounted to a series of allegations of corruption against politicians and Housing Corporation figures. The Police asserted an overriding public interest in confidentiality. No prosecutions had been brought. An injunction seeking to restrain disclosure of further similar material was refused.
Where the balance of the competing public interests of the confidentiality of police investigations and the public right to be informed of impropriety in public life should be struck.
Dismissing the appeal:
(1) The fact that no prosecutions had been brought following a full investigation did not outweigh the right of the public to be informed of confidential information relating to the improprieties of public officials and politicians seeking office;
(2) The public of Bermuda were the proper recipients of the information disclosed which went to the heat of public life in a democracy;
(3) Local courts were best placed to strike the balance of competing public interests of these kinds.
Their Lordships agreed with the Chief Justice of Bermuda that in this case the freedom of the press overrode police confidentiality. It should be noted that the confidential papers were in storage when removed and did not derive from a live investigation. Significantly the Bermuda DPP’s decision not to prosecute as a result of the investigation was not persuasive. One might speculate that had the action been brought by the subjects of the allegations/disclosures the result might have been different.