Decision of the Complaints Committee 04836-18 Ridley v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Peter Ridley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “British court recognises sharia law in landmark divorce case”, published on 2 August 2018.
2. The article reported on a High Court judgment, following a divorce petition filed by a wife against her husband. The husband defended the divorce petition on the basis that the parties had not entered into a marriage which was valid according to English law, but had instead undergone the Islamic law marriage ceremony, the Nikah. The judge concluded that the marriage between the wife and husband was “void” for the purposes of s.11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and decided that as a consequence, the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity, thereby enabling her to seek relief which could potentially include a division of assets or maintenance.
3. The article reported that “Sharia law has been recognised by a British court for the first time after a judge made a landmark divorce ruling that could change the way Islamic marriage works in most of the UK”. It reported that the Nikah ceremony “fell under British matrimonial law” and had been found to be “void”, rather than a “non marriage”; the article explained that “the case will have significant implications for women who marry under sharia but not British law and it could give them the right to divorce their husbands and split their assets, as well as being able to secure a divorce more easily”. The article contained a quote from a lawyer, who commented on the case: “[the husband and wife] both knew their sharia marriage was not legally registered. It became vital for [the wife] that the English divorce court rule that the marriage should be recognised as void, and not a non-marriage, otherwise she would not have any rights to make any financial claims for herself. The ruling … has given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination.”
4. There was a front page reference to the article, headlined “High court recognises sharia marriage in law”. The article continued onto page 5.
5. The article was published in substantially the same form online under the headline “British court recognises sharia law in landmark divorce case”. The online article contained the following sentence: “the marriage] fell under British matrimonial law despite it not being legally recognised as such”.
6. The complainant said that the article’s headline, as well as the first line of the article, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, because a British court had not “recognised” sharia law. He said that the fact that a Nikah ceremony was performed was not a substantive element in the judge’s decision to grant the wife a decree of nullity. He said that even if the performance of a Nikah ceremony was significant, the fact that the ceremony happened to be recognised by sharia law did not equate to the recognition of sharia law by English courts.
7. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the term “recognised” has many meanings, and the headline of the article must be read in conjunction with the remaining text. The newspaper said that, as set out in the article, the marriage had been found to be “void” for the purposes of s.11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, rather than being a “non-marriage” that has no recognition under English law. The newspaper said that the case established, for the first time, that a Nikah marriage can enjoy a measure of legal recognition - albeit not at the same level as a fully lawful marriage conducted under UK law. The newspaper said that both the print and online articles sets out the full details of the case, and so would not have implied that a sharia marriage had been accorded the exact same legal status as a marriage conducted fully in accordance with UK law.
8. While it did not accept a breach of the Code, the newspaper offered to publish the following wording in its established Corrections and Clarifications column:
Sharia marriage in UK law
Following our article "British court recognises sharia law in landmark divorce case" (Aug 2), we wish to clarify that the ruling reported by the article grants nikah marriages limited recognition – not the same status as full marriages conducted under UK law
Relevant Code provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
10. It was not in dispute that the case was the first time that a woman married under Islamic law – and who had not subsequently undertaken a civil marriage ceremony – had petitioned for a divorce through a UK court and was able to make a claim on her husband’s assets. The wider implications which the judgment may have on women married in a Nikah ceremony had been acknowledged in the article.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/08/2018
Date decision issued: 10/01/2019
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