A scathing High Court judgment awarding damages to a man arrested in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing seems set to end the practice of news media identifying suspects from their own sources. In Alaedeen Sicri v Associated Newspapers Limited, Mr Justice Warby ordered the Mail to pay damages totalling £83,000 to a Libyan man whom it named as the subject of a police statement about an arrest following the 2017 attack. Alaedeen Sicri was eventually released without charge.
According to the judgment, Sicri was identified by several newspapers following up a police press release that a 23-year-old man had been held in Shoreham-by-Sea. He brought an action against the Mail for breach of confidence and misuse of private information, claiming aggravated damages and special damages to compensate for financial loss.
Warby J found that Sicri had a right to expect that the newspaper had violated his right not to be identified and had no sufficient public interest justification for doing so. The decision to publish was 'not a bespoke exercise of considered editorial judgment' but more in the nature of 'an automated or knee-jerk process'. The claim was not significantly weakened by the fact that other media had also identified Sicri: 'The fact that information was published by the Guardian does not establish that it was known to the world at large', the judge observed.
Dismissing as 'entirely misconceived' an argument that publication was justified on the basis of open justice, Warby J said it was impossible to draw any meaningful analogy with what takes place in court: 'the court is exercising the judicial power of the state, determining rights and obligations; its workings need to be transparent and open to scrutiny and criticism. That specific and hallowed rationale plainly cannot be transposed wholesale to "any local event of public importance".'
Although an arrest also involves the exercise of state power, it is an executive act of a provisional nature, entirely different in character from a civil or criminal trial or other court proceeding, he added.
Sicri was awarded general damages of £50,000 to compensate for the wrongful disclosure and special damages of £33,000 for financial losses caused by the wrongful act.
Solicitor Tamsin Allen of London firm Bindmans said: ‘This is an important judgment which makes it clear beyond question that arrested people have a right to privacy, and the media may not identify arrested people unless there are special circumstances. As the judge said, it is not for the media to determine the right balance between privacy rights and freedom of expression – that is a matter of law.’
Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori, instructed by Bindmans LLP, appeared for the claimant; Antony White QC and David Glen, instructed by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP, for the defendant.