Decision of the Complaints Committee 07127-19 Wilkinson v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. David Wilkinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Boris faces calls to recall Parliament after Scottish court rules shut down was unlawful” published on 11 September 2019.
2. The article reported on a high profile constitutional court case in September in which the Scottish Court of Session court ruled that the prorogation of parliament was unlawful, following a challenge from a group of campaigners and lawyers. The article explained that “Top judges found in favour of an appeal against Boris Johnson and the case will go to the Supreme Court next week”. It explained that at that point, although the court had found that the prorogation was null and void, there were no plans for MPs to retake their seats in parliament. It also reported that the government was “disappointed” by the decision. The article included a box summarising the article in a number of points, one of which said “Today’s decision is still only an allegation which is yet to [sic] proven in a court of law”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. It was not the case that the Scottish court’s decision that the prorogation was unlawful was “only an allegation” yet to be proven in a court of law – the decision clearly had been made in a court of law.
4. The publication said that the sentence was an error – the newspaper claimed it was nonsensical, and noted that it was clearly the case that something could not be both a decision and an allegation. It said that this production error was raised with editorial staff on the day of publication, and was amended immediately – the error was only online for approximately 5 hours. It said that the rest of the article accurately set out what had happened and was decided by the Scottish Court of Session, and so the article as a whole made completely clear the nature of the court ruling, its consequences, and the fact that the Supreme Court would now consider an appeal. Nevertheless, on receipt of the complaint, it offered to add the following wording as a footnote to the article to record the amendment:
“A previous version of this article erroneously included the phrase “today’s decision is still only an allegation which is yet to be proven in a court of law”, referring to the decision of the Scottish Court of Session. It was removed on the day of publication as it did not provide clear information about the court’s decision.”
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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
6. The statement under complaint had appeared as a result of a production error, which was amended as soon as the publication became aware of it. For the short time it was included in the article, the error did not give rise to any significant inaccuracy in the context of the overall article – the court’s decision that the prorogation was unlawful was the central point of the article and was accurately reported. As such, the error did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and was not significant to the overall article as to require correction beyond the amendments already made. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) or 1(ii). However, the Committee welcomed the offer to footnote the change.
7. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 12/09/2019
Date complaint concluded: 04/03/2020Back to ruling listing