Joshua Rozenberg resigned Telegraph post after editors sexed up human rights story

19 February 2015 by

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 21.56.47On yesterday’s Newsnight (from 7 minutes 20 seconds in), Britain’s foremost legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg revealed that he resigned as the Telegraph’s legal editor in 2007 after the news desk sexed up a human rights story with false information. 

The story is still on the Telegraph’s website here. It was a report of the 2007 House of Lords decision in Secretary of State for Defence v Al-Skeini & Ors [2007] UKHL, a case about whether the Human Rights Act applied to actions of the British Army in Iraq. The House of Lords ruled that the Act did apply in British detention facilities, but that it did not apply in the streets of occupied Basra. There is an excellent summary of the case by Rozenberg here.

The problem, Rozenberg revealed last night, was with a line in the second paragraph which was added by the news desk despite his objections:

The ruling could open the way for civilian victims of military actions to sue the Ministry of Defence for millions of pounds

“It would make a better story”, Rozenberg told his editors, “but it just isn’t true”. And it wasn’t. The Law Lords had explicitly rejected claims by families of “civilian victims of military action“. Rozenberg told Newsnight that a judge commented the following day that this was wrong, and it was then the Telegraph’s legal editor decided to resign.

Ironically, three years later the European Court of Human Rights effectively reversed the House of Lords’ decision. Maybe the news desk knew?

The Telegraph has been a regular offender in this blog’s posts about poor human rights reporting, but now there is hard evidence that its editorial staff, at least in 2007, deliberately manufactured false claims about human rights. They never bothered to find a replacement legal editor, which perhaps explains why their human rights coverage is now badly written and ideologically driven. We are all the worse for it.

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  1. Captain Sensible says:

    Dig the ECHR reverse the whole HoL decision or just the one of the two main parts ? Your link does not make it clear.

    The military have a saying about “mission creep” i.e. going beyond the original intent or objective and as has been stated ECHR law is “living” and the court can go into tangential areas if it chooses – a sort of legal mission creep. HR lawyers would of course use any existing judgement as a springboard for ever more challenges.

    Under these circumstances the newspaper should be allowed to express its opinion and concerns about future interpretation of the judgement. I also seriously doubt Rozenberg would have resigned over this one trivial thing and I doubt it even more as his official website says he was with the Telegraph until the end of 2008. Something not quite right about all this.

  2. Watch it says:

    This needs more coverage. If the Tories get back in they are going to use this kind of made-up bullshit in their justification of tearing up the HRA. The only way to resist is to spread the knowledge of how ideologically driven this is. Well done.

  3. Dan Bunting says:

    Fair play to Joshua – only increased in my estimation. And a good reminder that broadsheets can be just as mendacious as the tabloids…

  4. finolamoss says:

    Political manipulation by news desks, to incite public hatred , of their only protection, and freedom, the Human Rights Act.

    This was then for years, deliberately, encouraged by stories, and spin, against the act, to engender public disapproval..

    Just one of the many media manipulation for state purpose.

    Who needs Leveson ?

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