Ruling

17987-23 Garrood v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      10th August 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17987-23 Garrood v The Times


Summary of Complaint

1. Bridget Garrood complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Radcliffe: Trust children to transition”, published on 13 April 2023.

2. The article – which appeared on page 11 of the newspaper – reported on the issue of children who transition gender. It drew the distinction between social and medical transitions; and discussed whether children should be trusted to make decisions about medical care in connection to their gender identity. The article concluded by reporting that “[i]n a landmark case in 2020, three judges at the High Court found that children aged 13 and under would be ‘highly unlikely’ to be able to give their competent consent for treatment to begin their transition”. It then reported that the judges also stated that it was “doubtful” that “14 and 15-year-olds would understand the long-term risks of gender reassignment treatment, including possible infertility and the impairment of sexual function”.

3. A substantially similar version of the article appeared online, under the headline “Trust children to change gender, says Daniel Radcliffe”.

4. The complainant was one of a number who raised concerns to IPSO about the article; in line with IPSO’s usual procedures, he was selected as the lead complainant for the purposes of the IPSO investigation.

5. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1, because it omitted that the High Court judgment referenced had been overturned on appeal in 2021.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the article quoted the concerns raised by the High Court judges on the issue of informed consent; they were not presented as a statement of the law nor did the article reference the legal decision made. Further, the publication said the Court of Appeal decided, contrary to the view expressed by the High Court, that the prescription of puberty blockers was not a matter for the courts; it did not – and could not – invalidate as a matter of fact their expressed and widely shared concerns about the ability of children to give informed consent. In these circumstances, the publication argued, there was no reason to refer to the subsequent legal decision of the Court of Appeal, nor did its omission render the article inaccurate or misleading.

Relevant Clause 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

7. Editors are entitled to exercise their discretion in selecting material for publication, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. For example, a decision to include certain pieces of information and omit others may render an article inaccurate and misleading and possibly in breach of Clause 1.

8. The article reported that in 2020 three judges of the High Court had “found” that “children aged 13 and under” would be “highly unlikely” to be able to give “their competent consent for treatment to begin their transition”, describing this as a “landmark case”. In doing so, the article presented this as the current legal position as to whether children of this age were legally competent to consent to such treatment. In the view of the Committee, this was misleading: the Court of Appeal had subsequently ruled that it was inappropriate for the High Court to reach general age-related conclusions about the likelihood or probability of different cohorts of children being capable of giving consent. Given that both judgments were in the public domain and therefore accessible to the publication for the purposes of fact-checking, the Committee considered that the newspaper had taken insufficient care not to publish misleading information about the current legal position. There was, therefore, a breach of Clause 1 (i).

9. The article concerned the ability of children to provide competent consent for treatment to begin transition. In this context, the misleading presentation of the current legal position was considered significant and required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code. Neither a correction nor a clarification was offered by the publication. The Committee therefore found a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion

10. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

11. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

12. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code. While the newspaper had not offered to publish a correction, the Committee noted that the complaint was limited to the penultimate paragraph of the article. The main body of the article explored the opposing views of high-profile individuals on the issue and the article accurately quoted the comments made by the High Court judges. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction. The correction should acknowledge that the article’s presentation of the legal position was misleading and put the correct position on record: the comments made by the High Court judges did not represent the current legal position on the ability of children to provide competent consent for treatment to begin transition.

13. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The correction to the print article should be published in the publication’s regular Corrections and Clarifications column. With regards to the online article: should the publication intends to continue to publish it without amendment, the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

 

Date complaint received:  13/04/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  18/07/2023