On 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  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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