The Sun just keeps getting it wrong on human rights

4 August 2014 by

Sun Wrong AgainWith the May 2015 General Election looming, the battle for the future of human rights in the UK is hotting up. The Prime Minister has just sacked his long-standing Attorney General apparently because he disagreed with a mooted Tory manifesto policy which would, he rightly suggested, breach the UK’s international law obligations.

Meanwhile, over on what used to be Fleet Street,we can expect plenty of human rights misinformation and misrepresentation, as per usual. The Sun, a longterm offender, has been at it again with two recent articles. I thought it would be useful to respond in a bit of detail as they contain a number of common misrepresentations. And because they are behind a paywall, the usual army of Twitter fact checkers are left somewhat powerless.

The first article, published on 27 July 2014, was entitled “It’s time to stop crazy human rights rulings from European judges“. It reported that Prime Minister David Cameron will “make an overhaul of human rights laws a centrepiece of his next election manifesto“. Here are six quotes from the article, explaining why they are inaccurate or cheekily provide only half of the picture:

1. “Britain has lost more than 200 cases in the European Court of Human Rights, at a cost of £4.4million to taxpayers.” There are two key statistics missing here to provide proper context: first, the figure is over taken from cases in a period of 15 years, so the true cost is relatively low, particularly given that it includes costs and damages. Second, that the UK wins around 98% of cases brought against it at the Court – see my post.

2. It’s about not being able to deport an illegal immigrant who has fathered children here because of his “right to family life” even though he is playing no part in their upbringing“: This is a domestic Upper Tribunal case, not a European Court of Human Rights one.

3. “The original European Convention on Human Rights was designed to counterbalance the dictatorships, in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union“: Wrong. The original ECHR was drafted in the 1950s after the fall of Nazism so obviously was not intended to counterbalance the dictatorships. If that were the case it would mean that, once they fell, the ECHR would be redundant – hence the slip. The true position is that the ECHR was drafted in order to protect Western European against Communism and prevent the rise of other illiberal regimes – see my post on the history of the ECHR.

4.THE European Court stopped a British judge imposing a whole-life tariff on Ian McLoughlin. Totally wrong. The European Court of Human Rights in the Vinter case ruled that the UK’s system of whole life tariffs breached human rights. For a brief period sentencing judges did not know whether they could impose Whole Life Orders. Then, in February 2014, the English Court of Appeal in McLoughlin, R v [2014] EWCA Crim 188 said that in fact they could.

5. ITALIAN teenager Learco Chindamo stabbed to death headmaster Philip Lawrence outside his London school… Ministers wanted to deport him but a hearing ruled his right to family life prevents him being kicked out“. This is inaccurate for reasons I have discussed before  Chindamo raised his human right to family life but his deportation was blocked by EU movement law.6.

6.A CONVICTED paedophile was awarded £5,496 for “distress and frustration” he suffered awaiting trial. Strasbourg judges said the four-year proceedings against Rupert Massey, jailed for abusing three boys, were a breach of his human rights”. Wrong. He was awarded €4,000 in 2004, that is around £3,180.

The second article was published today, entitled “HEUman Rights“, with the longer title being “EU Human Rights Laws stop 745 foreign lags from being deported”.
Can you guess what my criticism is going to be? That’s right! The article was about the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, neither of which is connected to the European Union. The Human Rights Act is a domestic law passed by our own Parliament and the ECHR is an international treaty which the UK signed before the EU existed.

The worst part is that The Sun was reprimanded by the Press Complaints Commission over a similar error just last year, and promised, as part of a settlement with the PCC, to “alert its staff to the issue and incorporate it into its training program“. At the time, I emailed The Sun offering to provide that training. but received no response. The PCC made a good point then which applies even more now that we are closer to both the General Election and possible EU membership referendum:

It is an important role of newspapers and magazines to publicise and analyse judicial rulings, but this public interest is served only insofar as such reports inform rather than mislead. While a headline, by its nature, can only ever summarise, it was inaccurate for the subheadline of the article to have attributed to the European Union responsibility for a decision by domestic courts based on the European Convention on Human Rights… This is a clear failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the coverage and a breach of the Editors Code, which was particularly significant at a time when the roles of both the EU and the Convention were a matter of major public debate

Obviously, The Sun have not learned their lesson and its 13.6 million weekly readers are still being poorly served.

If the Tories are truly going to put human rights reform at the centre of their election manifesto, then it is up to those who know what they are talking about, such as Dominic Grieve, to tell the UK public the truth about human rights. Unfortunately, it is clear that some MPs and newspapers cannot be trusted to do so. I fear this is going to get worse before it gets better, but in the meantime I will do my best to call out the worst cases.

If you would like to complain to the Press Complaints Commission (whilst it still exists),  just click here. It does sometimes make a difference.


  1. Gavin Steele says:

    Grateful, Adam, for your corrections. But, being a little brutal, does this do much good?

    Your excellent blog has around 32,000 followers – and is probably read by thousands more, many of whom (we might imagine) belong to something of a legal elite that is already familiar with this kind of tabloid misreporting and need little convincing of your arguments. Compare that to the Sun’s 2.2 million – and that doesn’t include its growing online readership – many of whom, uninterested in legal details, will never know they’ve been misled.

    You yourself have shown how even determined efforts to raise inaccuracies with the PCC have resulted in tiny corrections, buried on the inside pages, many months after the original transgression, in language that only barely fulfils the terms requested by the PCC. It’s pretty thin pickings.

    And even then, as the Sun’s cynical propagandists know, a handful of obscure legal facts are unlikely to change hearts and minds – it’s the steady drumbeat of prejudice, a set of skewed facts consistently and neatly packaged in article after article over a long period, that does the real damage.

    It’s clear to me that a brutal “information war” has been under way for some years now – led to the charge by the Sun, the Daily Mail and (increasingly) the Daily Telegraph, in cahoots with some very media-savvy politicos – and we’re losing it hands down.

    All we can do is keep re-stating the facts – but if, as we are told, Cameron is to make human rights reform a “main plank” of his election manifesto, is belated fact-checking going to be enough? How can we get going the full-throated national debate on the Convention we really need ahead of the 2015 election?

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Gavin, no offence taken. I agree with you. We are hopeless mismatched. Ultimately, I have almost no doubt that the Mail, Sun, Express and Telegraph will win this war and take no prisoners. But we can keep trying!

    2. Of course the Mirror, Indy, ‘Gruniad’ would never get their facts wrong would they ? These bastions of the left are the deliverers of truth and justice……..not.

      As an oppressed minion tired of having no say in decisions made by unelected judges, many of whom come from countries with far worse HR records than the UK, and often with no judicial experience, I’m pleased that the government will at last make HR legislation it’s prime target.

      I think most sensible Britons feel that we should have authority in our own country and courts and not be undermined by a distant unelected elite.

      There is a good article on line from a lawyer on how HR legislation is being used and abused particularly by the EU judges who seem to interpret the legislation in whatever manner they see fit, even in some cases ignoring guidelines and seemingly extending the meaning of clauses into areas where they were never intended for use.

      Sorry can’t give you a link, but if you come across it have a read. I’m sure it will offend your left wing sensibilities, but please do have a look.

  2. Captain Sensible says:

    I agree with Simon. You are being a little disingenuous with your point. Particularly point 6 where the amount is wrong but the central fact that a paedophile won a payout due to a perceived human rights breach is correct. Unfortunately this type of judgement is alienating the public and bringing legislation and the ECHR into disrepute.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      How was I disingenuous with the point? They almost doubled the amount he was awarded. That is all I said.

      1. Captain Sensible says:

        You were disingenuous by focusing on the amount as an example of the Sun’s exaggeration, whilst ignoring the fact that the Sun’s bigger issue was the use of human rights legislation by a paedophile and the payment made to him. I think everyone noticed you were stretching a point and ignoring the real issue.

        1. Adam Wagner says:

          I’m not sure the focus on getting the damages figure wrong could sensibly be said to be disingenuous, Captain Sensible.

          1. Captain Sensible says:

            You make my point for me yet again. Any comment on the bigger issue or shall we ignore it and move on ?

  3. Simon Carne says:

    Looks like the Sun is being pretty silly again. But is the ice you are skating on thick enough to take the weight of your point 2?

    It may well have been a UK court (the Upper Tribunal) which made the decision. But was the underlying legal reasoning forced upon the tribunal as a result of law/precedent which the UK government would be able to remove were it not for whichever European treaty the Sun is attacking this week? You don’t say.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      I had a feeling someone would suggest that – it’s a very thin point, as the article was aimed at the ECHR and the decision was painted as a decision by the ECtHR.

      Judges will continue to make decisions which offend principle (particularly at first sight) even if the HRA is repealed and we leave the EHCR. Courts will still need to decide complex family law issues and also whether people should be deported or not.

      1. Simon Carne says:

        What a strange reply to my challenge! I asked whether the underlying legal reasoning was forced upon the tribunal as a result of the UK being party to a European treaty … and could, therefore, be changed for future cases if the UK withdrew from the relevant treaty.

        Of course, we will still look to tribunals. And tribunals may surprise us, offend us or even make mistakes. But the legilsation they are charged with enforcing would (or could) be different.

        1. Adam Wagner says:

          Simon – I was replying to the gist of your comment, which was if we leave Strasbourg then these kind of decisions would no longer be made, with the “kind” being decisions which offend common sense.

          But, to be precise, you are correct that if we remove human rights protections in the UK then the underlying architecture underlying that decision would be gone.

          1. Simon Carne says:

            Oh dear. I don’t want to have an internet squabble with you, Adam, but I really didn’t say (or think) anything of the sort.

            As to the first paragraph of your response above, my point was that the UK Parliament would be free to decide whether it wants UK courts to continue making decisions along the current lines or along different lines. I didn’t predict what that decision would be.

            As to your second paragraph, I certainly didn’t suggest that a UK government would “remove human rights protections”. I can’t see that happening from any of the parties which currently have a chance of a forming a government. I do, however, think a more informed discussion would take place (from a variety of sources) if Parliament had the authority to legislate in this area. And I suspect there would be some carefully thought through adjustments, whilst remaining within the framework of the basic human rights that currently exist.

  4. Since when has the Sun ever let FACTS get in the way of an inflammaTORY story?

  5. jon says:

    I’d just like to expand on the Learco Chindamo point, for the benefit of anyone here not aware. The EU free movement laws are really a creature of our own Parliament: the European Communities Act 1972 revocably committing us to the scheme laid out in the Treaties, of free movement of workers, goods, services, and capital. It was well known then that restrictions on free movement of workers (besides for sectoral labour imbalances) could only be lawfully justified on the grounds of serious and imminent danger from that person (or other grave public policy or public health grounds, e.g. the Geert Wilders case).

    Chindamo was judged to be not a threat. So the idea – which you will hear again and again – that EU law somehow requires us to accommodate people who are dangerous, is completely false.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation deficit DEFRA Democracy village Dennis Gill dentist's registration fees deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disabled claimants disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 justification just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: