Whether or not you agree that Prince Andrew’s recent interview on the Epstein allegations was “not so much a car crash but an articulated lorry crash”, an important legal point deserves to be emphasised.
There is no obligation on witnesses in any sort of trial, civil or criminal, whether high profile or not, to engage with the press. From a practical perspective, any decision to engage with the media positively can have important consequences. The big risk is losing control of the story: the tale may come across very differently from the way you hoped or expected, and can be used again at any point in the future, potentially for a purpose you never intended. If you are a witness in criminal proceedings, speaking with the media prior to the matter being finalised may result in your evidence becoming contaminated, or compromising the case while it is still in court.
Recent case law limits the ability of the media to intrude on individuals’ privacy when an investigation is ongoing. An example is Sir Cliff Richard’s case against the BBC, in which he was awarded £210,000. Someone accused of a criminal offence (entirely falsely, in Sir Cliff’s case) has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conduct of the investigation. Of course that right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the public interest in any particular publication, particularly where very sensitive allegations have been raised. But there is no reason why that right to privacy should not also cover someone who – like Prince Andrew – could be a witness in potential criminal proceedings, (especially if that witness could be investigated for a potential crime themselves).
But of course, the moment that person, as in Prince Andrew’s case, decides voluntarily to go public about those matters, it is likely to be open season on their reputation, and what might previously have been legally “private” may no longer be. One only has to flick through the MailOnline and other tabloid websites since the interview to read one alleged revelation after another concerning the Prince’s previous behaviour, many of which the media have no doubt had stored up for years.
He didn’t have to do this interview. Now he has, Prince Andrew is likely to be living with the reputational consequences – and the constant, public scrutiny of his private life in a manner that might previously have been objectionable and even actionable – for many years to come.