Daily Mail on the naughty step over domestic violence case

30 January 2011 by Adam Wagner

In an entertaining post which also raises the serious issue of journalistic responsibility, the Nearly Legal blog has put a Daily Mail “family law expert” on the naughty step in relation an article on a recent Supreme Court decision on the meaning of domestic violence in housing cases.

According to the respected housing law blog, the Mail article, entitled Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It’s just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge, demonstrates“why the Mail is not a paper of record for case reports”. And

The Mail appears to consider that a definition of violence that doesn’t require physical assault means a falling away from the standards of the good old days.

As Nearly Legal points out, far from taking a radical position, the Supreme Court merely confirmed what family lawyers, the police, the government and even the local council in the case have been saying about domestic violence for years. And why Baroness Hale is identified in the title as a “woman” judge is anybody’s guess, but the implication seems to be that one of Britain’s most senior judges is letting her gender cloud her judgment.

As well as accusing the unnamed reporter of “sheer incompetence” for their presentation of the judgment which extended the definition of domestic violence (see Nearly Legal’s excellent analysis of the case by way of contrast), the post takes issue with the “family law expert” quoted in the piece, who is probably, in fact, the former head of a right-wing think-tank and a commercial, employment, but not family, lawyer.

The post raises a serious issue which we have discussed on a number of occasions recently in relation to human rights law: inaccurate legal reporting in the press.  Two weeks ago I highlighted poor reporting by the Daily Telegraph in a recent deportation case involving two sons of former Gurkha soldiers. In November many newspapers reported that the failure to deport Learco Chindamo, the notorious killer of a school headmaster, was due to human rights but this was not really what the case was about . And, more recently, the case of an “asylum seeker death driver” was misunderstood.

Two questions must be asked of any article about a legal ruling. First, is the presentation of the law correct? This question not straightforward, as legal rulings are often complex and sometimes difficult even for lawyers to understand. But reporters must at least make a decent effort to explain what the ruling means, and if there is complexity, admit that there is. It is not enough to find an “expert” who agrees with one, often controversial, interpretation of a case which conforms with a newspaper’s editorial position, and present their view as fact.

The second question is whether there is more than one reasonable reaction to the case. If so, those different responses should be expressed. For example, in the domestic violence case, it is wholly reasonable to say that the interpretation of the legislation by Baroness Hale may have stretched the statutory language too far. That can hardly be unreasonable as Lord Brown said exactly that in a strange and potentially problematic semi-dissent to the judgment. But surely it is misleading to present one side of the argument and not the other. This is compounded by using a potentially dodgy “expert” to bolster an editorial position.

The effect of poor legal reporting often extends beyond an article’s readers. For example, the naughty Daily Mail article  has already been picked up and commented on by a Daily Telegraph blogger, Christina Odone, who predictably picks up none of the judgment’s nuance, and presents the case in the same inaccurate light. She also exclaims “This judge is an ass!”

So, even if Nearly Legal declined to put the Daily Mail on the naughty step, it should be there along with the ‘family law expert’ quoted in the article. And if the legal reporting by some newspapers continues to place rulings into convenient and over-simplified tropes, rather than explaining them properly to the general public, the legal naughty step will become something of a staircase.

If the presentation of law in newspaper articles concerns you, the online Press Complaints Commission form is here.

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5 comments


  1. Mike Baldwin says:

    The Daily Mail reporting is a travesty. As a volunteer for a well-know national charity that helps people in despair, I know of women (yes, Ray, and men) who suffer the most appalling prolonged abuse and controlling behaviour that can drive them to suicide. It can be hard for the rest of us to imagine why they don’t just leave, but for those with low self-esteem following psychological abuse to flee to a new area, with no job, no money and often no social contacts is immensely daunting. The homelessness legislation offers them some kind of lifeline, but I am told that (in England) a mere declaration that someone is homeless does not entitle them to a council home unless they are deemed vulnerable as a result of what has happened to them. If they are not considered vulnerable, then the council must offer them advice and assistance on finding a new home but is not required to provide one itself.

    In my view, the uncertainty of whether someone will be considered vulnerable remains a significant barrier that might be deterring extremely abused men and women from fleeing lest they become homeless and destitute. I understand the risks of drawing the legislation too widely but believe the guidance needs to be amended to offer a more cast-iron guarantee of housing assistance for those of either sex who are suffering the most. At the very least, such people fleeing abuse need the assurance of emergency accommodation whilst their claims are investigated further. If there is concern that people might still use such a mechanism as a pretext to obtain social housing by deception (is it really so desirable that people would do this?) then that might need to be addressed in other ways – perhaps by ensuring that any such housing is not permanent but only provided for such time as is reasonably required for people to get back on their feet and fend for themselves in the private sector.

  2. Chambers says:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350761/Women-entitled-council-house-partner-shouts.html

    The Mail gets it about right in this article.

    Its a scam that has been increasingly used over the years to gain council housing by jumping to the front of the queue. Claim DV and the world’s your oyster (in housing and family law).

    No evidence needed, just say anything you like have it all funded on Legal Aid and get in front of that lovely Family Court Judge where on the balance of probabilities you as a teary eyed mother cannot possibly be telling porkies.

    State sponsored false allegations are an epidemic in Family Law and in Housing applications, all funded and supported by an industry that encourages more and more.

    The real victims are decent normal people who spend an eternity on housing lists while the liars keep jumping ahead – Oh and children who are kept from another parent for financial gain and control.

    Can we expect the Judiciary to understand this, unfortunately not as they are schooled through a law degree system and work as lawyers to put DV dogma above common sense and fairness.

  3. Law Think says:

    That Telegraph piece by Christina Odone is absolutely appalling. Somehow, she has interpreted the case to mean that if she shouts at her husband, she might lose her house! Utter waffle.

  4. goodenufdad says:

    Thanks largely to my assistance, the property portfolio developed by my ex before she decided to split the family and deny proper access to the children, struck her eligibility for legal aid. However, a few, retrospective allegations of ’emotional abuse’ and ‘humiliating action’ (which turned out to be my smearing jam across her face whilst having a fun food fight in the kitchen) earned her enough kudos to be represented for free by the local domestic violence agency. For four long years. They played every dirty legal trick in the book. Ten welfare assessments found no problem with my relationship with the kids. Judges quickly ruled out DV from the proceedings, but the funding for her continued. I had to quit work to be eligible for legal aid, as I soon ran out of cash, or else I’d never have seen the children for more than 4 hours a month. The damage the extended process has done to the kids has been enormous; psychiatrists, multiple therapies etc – the dv agency ignored their plight entirely. Only when the agency ran out of money did we really start to move forwards. The kids’ problems slowly dissolved away as I finally achieved more contact to them.

  5. Ray2447 says:

    Domestic violence will never end as long as the whole truth about it is misrepresented to comply with feminist ideology. V.P. Biden recently called violence against women, “the very worst abuse.” The very worst abuse is valuing one life less than another for having been born the wrong gender. Under domestic violence law, the wrong gender is men. Shelter and services are virtually non-existent for male victims of domestic violence. Options out of a bad relationship, that women have, are often not available to men. Men wind up gender profiled and falsely accused by the taxpayer funded, domestic violence industry, because of gender feminist ideology controlling the d.v. industry. Men are often battered by domestic violence, and then battered again by the taxpayer funded, domestic violence industry as shown in “Los Misandry” at Youtube.

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