Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07349-21 Khan v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Shoaib M Khan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Judges may be freed from European rights rulings / Reform of Human Right Act may free up police resources”, published on 20 June 2021.
2. The article, which appeared on the front page of the newspaper and continued onto page 2, reported in its opening lines that “British judges would be told that they are no longer ‘bound’ by European human rights rulings, under major reforms being considered by the Government” and that “the first review of the Human Rights Act in 20 years is weighing up proposals to curb the influence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the UK”. It went on to report that “the Human Rights Act allows British courts to apply the ECHR, and states that UK judges should ‘take account’ of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, on the ECHR.”
3. The article also appeared online, in substantially the same form, under the headline “Judges may be freed from European rights rulings”. The online version of the article also included a sub-heading, which said: “Proposal that British judges should take European rulings ‘into account’ but ‘shall not be bound’ by decisions in Strasbourg”.
4. The complainant contacted the newspaper to make it aware that he considered the article to be inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He told the newspaper that, while it is the case that judges are currently required to take the decisions of the ECHR into account, they are not required always to follow the decisions and, therefore, it was inaccurate to report that “[j]udges may be freed from European rights rulings” and that “British judges would be told that they are no longer ‘bound’ by European human rights rulings”.
5. The complainant also said to the newspaper that, to correct the alleged inaccuracy: the online article should be amended and an online correction published; a print correction should be published on the front page of the newspaper, where the original article also appeared in part on the front page; and a correction should be published on Twitter, where the allegedly inaccurate headline had also been shared on Twitter by the newspaper
6. The publication said that the article was based on proposals from a peer, supported by others including the Metropolitan Police, to amend the wording of Section 2 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) to include the wording “shall not be bound” in relation to ECHR rulings – to address concerns that the HRA was being misinterpreted. It said that the article made clear the current status of the Act, where it reported that “the Human Rights Act allows British courts to apply the ECHR, and states that UK judges should ‘take account’ of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, on the ECHR”.
7. However, in response to the complainant’s concerns, on 25 June 2021, the publication amended the online article. The amended headline read as follows: “Judges to be 'freed' from European human rights rulings”. The sub-headline was also amended so that it read: “Proposed change to Human Rights Act will make it explicit that British judges are not bound by decisions in Strasbourg”. Finally, the opening lines of the article were changed to read: “British judges would be clearly told that they are not "bound" by European human rights rulings under major reforms being considered by a government review.” The following clarification was also appended to the online article as a footnote:
CLARIFICATION: This article has been amended to clarify that the proposed change in the law is to make explicit within the Human Rights Act that judges are not bound by ECHR rulings
8. The publication also published the following wording in its regular Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2 of the newspaper, on 27 June 2021:
Following an article "Judges may be freed from European rights rulings" (20, June) we have been asked to clarify that the proposed change in the law is to make explicit within the Human Rights Act that judges are not bound by ECHR rulings.
9. The publication also tweeted the following clarification in response to its original headline Tweet, on 16 July 2021:
CLARIFICATION: This article has been amended to clarify that the proposed change in the law is to make explicit within the Human Rights Act that judges are not bound by ECHR rulings.
10. While the complainant was satisfied that the amendments and clarifications were made promptly and that the wording was sufficient to address the original alleged inaccuracies he had flagged, he said that he considered that the print correction was insufficiently prominent, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). He considered this to be the case where the original article had appeared in part on page 1, and the clarification appeared on page 2.
11. As the complainant considered the wording to be insufficiently prominent, he complained to IPSO on the sole basis that the print correction was not sufficiently prominent.
12. In response to the complainant’s concerns on the prominence of the correction, the publication noted that the terms of Clause 1 (ii) require due prominence, rather than equal prominence, and also said that a number of factors must be taken into account when determining due prominence. In this case, the publication noted that the article was split between the first and second pages of the newspaper and that, in its view, the “thrust” of the article was entirely accurate. In addition, the publication said that IPSO had generally required the publication of front-page remedial action in the most serious of cases, such as cases where there had been a failure to offer swift remedial action – which it said was patently not the case in this instance.
Relevant Code Provisions
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
13. The Committee understood that the complainant wished only for IPSO to consider an alleged breach of Clause 1 (ii) arising from the print correction which he considered was not published with due prominence. The Committee therefore wished to make clear that it would only make a finding on this aspect of the complaint. However, it noted that – to make a finding on whether the correction was duly prominent – it must consider factors beyond its location, such as the seriousness of the alleged inaccuracy identified by the complainant.
14. When considering due prominence, the Committee takes several factors into account. These factors include: the seriousness of the breach, where in the article the alleged inaccuracy appears, and what actions the publication has already taken to address the breach. In this case, the Committee noted that the complaint concerned a report about the application of the Human Rights Act, which was an issue which did not personally and directly affect the complainant. The Committee noted that “bound” appeared in inverted commas in the opening lines of the article, which indicated that the position being reported upon was nuanced. Further, on the front page, the article explained that the proposal was that the Human Rights Act should be amended to make it explicitly clear that British Judges are not bound by the rulings of the ECHR, but that they should still take the rulings into account, a proposal which had been made because of a concern that some judges had wrongly based their decisions on judgments of the ECHR. The Committee also acknowledged that, in response to the complaint, the newspaper had taken the action set out in paragraphs 7-9, above.
15. The Committee then noted that the terms of Clause 1 (ii) provide that, in cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. Taking into account all the circumstances, the Committee considered that the correction which had been published in the print edition of the newspaper satisfied the requirement of due prominence, as it appeared on page 2 in the publication’s established Corrections & Clarifications column. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/07/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/11/2021Back to ruling listing