Using a right to be forgotten when being convicted of a crime
Lawyer Yair Cohen succeeded with a right to be forgotten appeal against conviction. The conviction was published on the internet without the reports of the conviction overturned on appeal.
Before our client found us, he had been severely affected by a legal case that was reported in the media.
L. was a successful footballer. Sadly, six years before he approached us, through his PR agent, he was convicted of a sexual offence which he did not commit.
L.'s trial attracted media attention because he was a person in the public eye. Throughout his trial and long after his conviction, L. maintained his innocence, and as such had become the victim of ongoing mockery by the mainstream press and subsequent pile-on harassment. Eventually, he won a re-trial where he was found not guilty. It was very likely that the alleged victim and some of her associates had lied in evidence.
Unfortunately, L.’s name and face were attached to dozens of news articles. The press has a right to report fairly from legal proceedings. This is the case even if someone is subsequently found not guilty of the offence. This of course devastated him and his family. From being a successful and highly talented footballer, he turned lonely and unemployable. Despite putting on a brave face, L. fell into depression and could see little hope of things ever improving for him, so long as the internet was packed with articles relating to his previous criminal conviction. ''People think,'' he once told me, ''that footballers are made of stone. The truth is, that we are like any other people''.
In many cases of criminal trials, particularly when the trial involves a celebrity or someone who is a public figure, there are news reporting of the legal proceedings. Often, the newspaper reporting from the legal proceedings stops their reporting when the editor considers that there is no longer public interest in the reporting. This usually happens when the court case goes in favour of the celebrity. See Right to be Forgotten by Celebrities.
But not only celebrities suffer from selective news reporting in the media from criminal proceedings. Every individual, public figure or not, may find themself in a similar situation, after their case concludes in their favour. The news reports online remain and prevents them from moving on with their lives. An application which relates to a right to be forgotten and legal proceedings is always highly challenging.
The news story removal strategy was to contact each of the newspaper editors and to convince them to either remove the news articles about our client from their website or to add a special code to the web page which would prevent Google and other search engines from finding the news articles and from listing them on search results.
The next stage was to set out preparing a right to be forgotten application to Google and other search engines and request that they de-list news articles relating to L. and removing references to the criminal conviction from search results. To top it all up, the third stage was to manually invite Google to crawl each newspaper article to make sure that the removal of content by the newspapers is registered with the search engine.
The main process took approximately 12 weeks to complete and then 4 more weeks to remove traces of links to the newspaper articles from Google searches.
Anyone who was convicted of a serious crime but whose conviction was quashed on appeal should have their name removed from Google searches for articles in connection with their trial. Even though reporting of a trial is always in the public interest, the de-listing process helps maintain the original article online but at the same time ensure that links to the article don’t come up in relation to the individual’s name. It is difficult enough to have to go through a criminal trial for an offence you did not commit.
To be associated with a crime that you didn’t commit to the rest of your life is twice as hard. It means you have to re-live the nightmare each day again and again. If you did not commit a crime, we are certain that you have a good case under a right to be forgotten, even if you were a person in the public eye. Everyone is entitled to a right of privacy regardless of who they are or how famous they are or used to be. Google might initially take a different view. Also, newspapers might refuse to have the articles deleted or blocked for Google searches. However, following the correct strategy, being persistent and persevering is almost always guaranteed to work.