Daily Mail back on naughty step over low-IQ sex ban case

8 February 2011 by

I posted last week on the interesting and morally complex case in which a judge in the Court of Protection ruled that a 41-year-old man with a mild learning disability did not have the mental capacity to consent to sex and should be prevented by a local council from doing so.

The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have picked up on this story. The Mail’s Richard Hartley-Parkinson appears to have based his article solely on the Telegraph’s, in light of this paragraph:

Mr Justice Mostyn said the case threw up issues ‘legally, intellectually and morally’ because sex is ‘one of the most basic human functions’ according to the Daily Telegraph.

Perhaps the Mail headline should be prefaced with “Daily Telegraph reports”. The problem is that whilst the Telegraph article provides a good and accurate summary, in rehashing this the Mail has left out the most important detail of the case; namely that “Alan” had been accused of making lewd gestures to children, which is what prompted the council, rightly, to make the application in the first place (see paragraph 7 of the judgment).

Given the absence of this important detail, the Mail’s opening paragraph can only be described as misleading:

Known only as Alan, the 41-year-old was in a relationship with a man he lived with and said he wanted it to continue. However, his local council said his ‘vigorous sex drive’ was inappropriate so started legal proceedings to restrict the relationship.

This is misleading as Alan’s vigorous sex drive was not said to be inappropriate in itself. It was his sex drive in addition to his alleged inappropriate behaviour towards children, compounded by his almost complete lack of understanding of the consequences of sexual activity.

The Nearly Legal blog has helpfully introduced the “Legal naughty step”, and I have already suggested that the Mail should be placed on it for its reporting of a supreme court decision on domestic violence.

The Mail should be back there again. As things stand, the article implies that the Court of Protection has banned a man from sex simply because he has a low IQ and a vigorous sex drive. It has not. When reporting a legal judgment, and in particular a sensitive and morally complex decision such as this, it is surely a basic requirement to read the decision and present the central details.

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

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1 comment;

  1. Subrosa says:

    I read about this case. Although the man was accused of (alleged) lewd behaviour towards children, the police did not press any charges I understand.

    I his behaviour didn’t qualify as an offence why was this further legal action taken by social workers who I feel are now well exceeding their powers and becoming a second police force. The public no longer have any faith in them.

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