Guest Blog: New member Nazir Afzal on his first Complaints Committee

This week our Complaints Committee met to adjudicate on complaints. Three new members have recently been appointed: Nazir Afzal, A former Chief Crown Prosecutor; Andrew Pettie, a former journalist; and Miranda Wiram, Head of Strategy and Insight at Forest Enterprise. In this week’s guest blog, Nazir Afzal gives his first impressions of being part of the Committee.

Having pleasantly been described recently by a national newspaper as the first "non-White member of IPSO's Complaints Committee" I wanted to share my first impressions of this little known but highly influential body. 

My weekly file of papers, prepared to an exceptionally high standard by a vastly experienced but relatively small team of complaints officers, drops into my online box every Friday to no great fanfare.

Each complaint has been investigated by the complaints officer and executive team to the point of death. I have seen tens of thousands of police investigations in my 25 year prosecution career and most would fail to meet the standard that the IPSO caseworkers set themselves.

They drill down into each element of the complaint, regularly going back to the complainant and any representative they have, to ensure the complaint is fully understood. Then they turn their attention to the publication at very senior levels, grilling them on what they did and why. The Editor's Code may not have the status of law or even policy as the Code for Crown Prosecutors does, but it is applied with the same vigour and relentlessness, to understand why the publication published the story or stories complained about. 

My fellow Committee members and I deliberate with care and argument but no heat. The aim is consensus and thus far it has been found. Each case is dealt with on its merits but staff are present to assist with whether a similar issue has arisen even though no precedent is set or applied.

Interpretation follows a robust legal framework and I am deeply impressed with both the depth of thought given to each complaint and also the clarity of the adjudication we reach.  Some of the complaints are extremely high profile but that doesn't mean they got more time. In fact, cases involving Joe or Jane Public appear to attract the most attention. 

I am heartened by the challenge to the publishers on their accounts of why they published but also by the meticulous way that the complaint is interrogated. This is as it should be. Never afraid to uphold complaints that will disappoint the publisher, nor to hold against a complainant when the evidence doesn't stand up. Familiar territory for a former Chief Prosecutor. 

You can find out more about IPSO’s Complaints Committee and its work here and read the Committee’s rulings here.