01987-21 A woman v

    • Date complaint received

      11th November 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01987-21 A woman v

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2021.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify an alleged victim of sexual assault.

3. The article reported on a court case between two spouses. It included statements from lawyers and attributed various claims to one of the spouses. It reported that this spouse alleged they had been subject to abuse, which the judge did not make findings on. It also reported that the judge had heard information regarding the marriage. The article contained a quote from the other spouse’s barrister and an application this spouse made to the judge which was denied.  Information regarding the spouse’s religion and profession were included.

4. The complainant, one of the spouses referred to, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. They said one of the statements attributed to lawyers had not been heard in court, and was not accurate. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that no findings had been made over the allegations of abuse, as this had not formed part of the case, was not the purpose of the hearing, and gave the impression that their allegations against their spouse were dismissed. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that the judge had heard information about the marriage. The complainant also said they had not spoken in court, and therefore the article should have attributed claims to their barrister. They also said that the quote from the spouses’ barrister was not adequately attributed, and that the claim was not true, though they accepted this had been part of the court hearing.

5. The complainant also said that the article represented an unjustified intrusion into their privacy in breach of Clause 2, as it identified their religion, profession and that they considered themselves a victim of abuse.

6. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 4 and Clause 11 by identifying them as a victim of sexual assault. The article named the complainant and included their allegations that their spouse had abused them. The complainant said that evidence heard in court, whilst not referenced in the article, included an application by the complainant’s spouse, which was refused by the judge, the substance of which should have made clear to the journalist that the complainant was a victim of sexual assault and therefore should not have been named. The complainant said that being named in the same article as their alleged abuser was highly distressing and inappropriate in further violation of Clause 4, and that they had suffered injuries to their mental health as a result of the publication of the article.

7. The complainant said that by identifying their religion, profession and that they considered themselves a victim of abuse, the article had discriminated against them in breach of Clause 12.

8. After receiving the complaint, the publication made an offer of resolution to the complainant. The parties did not agree on a resolution to the complaint and IPSO began its investigation.

9. In its first round of correspondence during IPSO’s investigation, the publication stated that the court report had come from a press agency, and that a reporter had been present at court. The publication said that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information by relying on this report. It provided an email from the agency stating that the disputed sentence had not come from the court, but a phone call with the complainant’s barrister afterwards, which resulted in a misunderstanding. In its second substantive response to IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish a standalone correction on this point, the wording of which was confirmed later.

10. The publication noted that the allegations of abuse had been aired in court, and that the judge had not made a ruling on the allegations. It said it was important to report this for both parties. The publication provided an email from the reporter in attendance at court who said that the judge had stated the reported information about the marriage, and that this had also been said by the barrister of the complainant’s spouse, and it was therefore accurate to state that the judge had heard this information. It said that where the complainant’s barrister was speaking on their behalf, it was not inaccurate to characterise their barrister’s speech as being said by the complainant.

11. The publication said that the complainant’s religion, profession and allegations of abuse against them were heard in public court, and therefore the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy over the information. On this basis, it said it was not a breach of Clause 2 to report this.

12. The publication said the claims made by the complainant during the proceedings did not constitute claims that they were a victim of sexual assault. It said, therefore, that Clause 11 was not engaged.

13. The publication said that, in addition to the above, the article was a fair and accurate report of a public hearing with no reporting restrictions, and that therefore Clause 4 was not engaged.

14. The publication also stated that the complainant’s religion, profession and the allegation that they were a victim of abuse were raised in the court case and was therefore genuinely relevant to the article.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

15. The Committee noted that the complainant’s spouse denied the allegations of abuse and made clear that its role was to consider whether the article complied with the Editors’ Code as a report on the proceedings, rather than to make findings on the veracity of claims heard as part of the proceedings, including the allegations of abuse which were in dispute between the parties.

16. The publication had relied on a court report from a press agency, which had been written by a journalist who was present at the court. In addition to the information heard in court, the journalist had contacted the complainant’s barrister to provide clarity on one aspect of the case. Newspapers are entitled to use reports provided by agencies, but in doing so they adopt responsibility for the care taken to ensure that information contained in the published copy is not inaccurate, misleading or distorted.

17. The first point considered by the Committee was the disputed statement. The publication said that this had not been said in court, but rather in a subsequent telephone conversation between the journalist and the complainant’s barrister. The complainant said that their barrister had denied this, and pointed out the statement was not, in any case, correct. There was clearly a conflict in the two accounts given; in such instances the Committee would generally expect the publication to support its account in order to demonstrate it had taken sufficient care over the disputed claim. The publication did not provide any record or contemporaneous notes of the conversation with the complainant’s barrister, but only the recollection of the journalist, obtained subsequent to the complaint. This was not sufficient to demonstrate that care had been taken not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and the Committee found a breach of Clause 1(i) of the Code.

18. The publication said that there had been a misunderstanding. It appeared to be accepted that there had been some discussion between the journalist and the barrister regarding the disputed statement, but that there had been a misunderstanding as to what this impact would be. This claim was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii).

19. The clarification offered by the publication acknowledged the initial inaccuracy and put the correct position on the record. As the article had been deleted, the publication offered to publish a standalone clarification, which represented due prominence. The clarification was offered at the start of IPSO’s investigation, when it became clear that solely deleting the article would not resolve the matter, which in the circumstances represented due promptness. This satisfied the publication’s responsibilities under Clause 1(ii) and there was no breach.

20. The complainant had accepted that the court had heard that they were a victim of abuse, but that the court case was not a fact finding case on these points. It was therefore accurate for the article to report that the judge had not made findings on the allegations of abuse; this did not imply that the allegations had been discounted. The article reported that the judge heard information about the marriage. Where the complainant accepted that this was their spouse’s position in court, the article was not inaccurate on this point. The Committee noted that the complainant believed it was inaccurate to report that they had said anything during the trial, as their barrister had been the one to speak. The barrister had been representing the complainant in the proceedings; in this context, it was not inaccurate to refer in general terms to the claims made in support of the complaint’s case, on their instructions, as having been attributed to the complainant. It was also not inaccurate to report what was written in the complaint’s spouses case outline, even in the complainant disputed the validity of the claim. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

21. The complainant’s religion, profession and the allegations of abuse against their spouse were heard in public through the court proceedings and were not subject to reporting restrictions. It was, therefore, not a breach of their privacy under Clause 2 to repeat this information.

22. With regards to Clause 11, the Committee made clear that it was not making a finding as to whether the complainant was a victim of sexual assault, but whether the article had identified them as such a victim. The complainant had been named in court without reporting restrictions. During the proceedings, there were allegations that they had been subjected to abuse. Neither of these allegations constituted an allegation of sexual abuse, and there was no mention of sexual assault in the article. In these circumstances, the complainant had not been identified as a victim of sexual assault and there was no breach of Clause 11.

23. The complainant also said the publication of the article was intrusive in breach of Clause 4. The Committee noted that the article was a report of the court proceedings. Clause 4 makes clear that it does not restrict the right for publications to report on legal proceedings. The Committee understood that the publication of the article was upsetting for the complainant, but it was a report of contemporaneous proceedings that had been heard in court, and there was no breach of Clause 4.

24. Clause 12 bars irrelevant and pejorative references to certain characteristics of an individual. As stated, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had been identified as a victim of sexual assault, and job titles are not a protected characteristic. The complainant’s religion had been heard in court, and was therefore genuinely relevant to an article involving a court case. There was no breach of Clause 12.


25. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

26. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.

Date complaint received: 01/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/09/2021


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.