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
Human rights and discrimination law are often criticised in the press. Sometimes the criticisms are justified, but the level of anger which a system of universal rights can generate is sometimes surprising. Unfortunately, some of that anger is caused by inaccurate reporting of judgments.
In yesterday’s Telegraph online, Cristina Odone blogged on a recent “scandal” relating to Mr Justice Mostyn’s request to carry out his responsibilities as a duty judge in Tenerife. I will leave comment on the main story to Charon QC, save to say that Odone uses the story as a means of judge-bashing, a sport which is currently popular in the press and even with politicians. “Who”, asks Odone channeling public anger, “do these judges think they are?” Moreover,
Updated x 2 | Today, guardian.co.uk’s Comment is Free (CIF) was “taken over” by the Occupy London movement. This has led to two particularly worrying articles being published. Both purport to offer legal advice which, if followed, could lead you straight to prison.
For that reason, Guardian CIF goes straight to the legal naughty step, where it can share a tent with the Occupy London movement. I understand that the Guardian’s online legal editors had nothing to do with the commissioning of the articles, and I also realise that “comment is free“. But there has to be a limit, and there is a huge difference between a controversial but plausible point of view and quackery. As C. P. Scott’s phrase continues “… comment is free but facts are sacred“.
Updated | The housing minister Grant Shapps wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that he wants to make squatting a criminal offence and “shut the door to squatters once and for all”
The changes to the law are being investigated by the Ministry of Justice at the moment (update: read the government’s press release and new guidance here). They will be of interest from a human rights perspective, although aspects of the UK’s current approach to squatters rights were declared compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights by the grand chamber European Court of Human Rights in the 2007 case of JA Pye (Ocford) LTD v. United Kingdom.
What is interesting about the proposed clarifications and changes to the law is the way in which they were reported.
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.
The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:
The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.
The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:
Despite the Leveson Report, the Daily Mail’s brief flirtation with the Human Rights Act has not even lasted a month. This article by Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle (Twitter: @jackwdoyle) is a weird one, even by the Mail’s standards. Here is the headline:
£500,000 a week in legal aid for prisoners’ human rights claims: YOU pay for them to seek easier life or early release
Clear, right? We are apparently spending £26m per year on prisoners’ human rights claims. And here is the first line:
Taxpayers are handing nearly £500,000 a week in legal aid to prisoners to help them make human rights claims.
That’s sounds like a lot of money to spend on prisoners’ human rights claims! But wait, there’s more… Continue reading →
Similarly, the Daily Mail says “the time has come for Britain to tell unelected Strasbourg judges that they have overstepped their authority“, and the Daily Express poses a dilemma between “democratically elected Commons or an unelected and alien tribunal in Strasbourg“.
Just to set the record straight, unlike our own judges, judges the European Court of Human Rights are elected.
The Times (amongstothers) today deserves a spell on the legal naughty step. Its headline announces that a judge’s decision “opens way to divorces by Sharia“. One might expect therefore to find that the judgment giving rise to the headline – the decision of Baker J in the Family Court in AI v MT – was about Sharia law, or otherwise had something to do with it. In fact the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.
The judge approved a final order in matrimonial proceedings by consent. That consent order had arisen from the Beth Din. It did not elevate the Beth Din to the status of the High Court. To the contrary, the judge stated that the following legal principles applied (paras -):
You know those films where a couple spend the first two acts hating each other until, possibly at night when it is raining, they realise they have been in love all along? It seems that following the Leveson Inquiry report, a winter romance is developing between the Mail on Sunday and the Human Rights Act.
Somebody call Lord Justice Leveson! The Daily Mail have earned themselves a position on the legal naughty step by ‘naming and shaming’ a “controversial” immigration judge for allowing an appeal on human rights grounds, whilst failing to mention that the Home Office themselves had conceded the point.
Headlines are important. They catch the eye and can be the only reason a person decides to read an article or, in the case of a front page headline, buy a newspaper. On Thursday The Times’ front page headline was “Britain can ignore Europe on human rights: top judge”.
But can it? And did Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, really say that?
To paraphrase another blog, no and no. The headline, which I am fairly sure was not written by Frances Gibb, the Times’ excellent legal correspondent and writer of the article itself, bears no relation to Lord Judge’s comments to the House of Lords Constitution Committee (see from 10:25). It is also based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into UK law.
I promised an analysis piece in my post on the Mosley judgment but there has been such an outpouring of comment and opinion on the case that a more useful exercise is to provide some sort of guide through the maze of material already out there.
The Court makes its disapproval of the conduct of the News of the World crystal clear and emphasises the need for a “narrow interpretation” of freedom of expression where sensational and titillating press reports are involved .
I posted last week on a judgment given by His Honour Judge Bellamy in a family court case involving a mother’s abuse of her baby The judge took the unusual step of criticising media reporting of the case. He said the Telepraph’s Christopher Booker’s reporting was “unbalanced, inaccurate and just plain wrong“.
There have been some developments since last week which raise interesting questions about the duty of journalists to report cases accurately. First, Sir Nicholas Wall, head of the family division, used his judgment in a different case to support HHJ Bellamy’s criticism. He said:
although I disagree with Judge Bellamy’s decision… I agree entirely with paragraphs 185 to 193 of his judgment in Re L under the heading “Transparency” and in which the judge deals with the tendentious and inaccurate reporting of the case.
Welcome back to the human rights roundup. Our full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
by Graeme Hall
In the news
The Leveson Inquiry has had a star-studded parade of witnesses and phone hacking has dominated the headlines. This week’s highlights have been comprehensively covered by Inforrm’s Blog here, here and here.
David Allen Green, writing in the New Statesman, remarks that this Inquiry is a boost for democracy as it gives a voice to those who have been at the sharp end of press intrusion – normally all to easily ignored and silenced by papers. Freedom of expression, at least during the Inquiry, is not just the preserve of the press.
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.