Free Press is Cornerstone of Democracy

In August 2016 I was lucky enough to visit the Newseum in Washington DC where I took the picture above. Pictures and inspiration quotes are all very well but how do they translate into real life? Luckily for me, I live in a society where our tabloid press provides daily examples of how happily they run with their freedom to be outrageous, but unhappily, how they pay rather less attention to their duty to be responsible.

In our post Leveson world, how would such a tabloid respond to a complaint about an alleged serious mis-use of press freedom? This blog post will set out a complaint made to the Daily Mail on September 6th. We will publish their response – if any – and the response of IPSO, which is I suspect where we will have to go next.

But perhaps I am unduly cynical. I am heartened to note what the Daily Mail says about how to complain. This sounds great!

AT THE Daily Mail we take great pride in the quality of our journalism. We do our utmost to ensure the accuracy of everything we publish. All our journalists are required to observe the Editors’ Code of Practice and we are members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the regulator for the Press set up in response to the Leveson Inquiry. One of IPSO’s key principles is that all its members have effective mechanisms for dealing with complaints and correcting errors as promptly as possible. If you wish to complain about a story in the Daily Mail or Weekend or the behaviour of one of our journalists, simply follow the steps below and we will do everything we can to put matters right.



Complaint to the Daily Mail on 6th September 2016

To whom it may concern:
This is a complaint made by Christopher Sharp QC, Sarah Phillimore, Lucy Reed and Mark Senior. We are all family law barristers.

Our complaint relates to the article published by the Mail online on 31st August 2016, which can be found at

The article is plainly based upon the published document ‘A View from the President’s Chambers (14)’, which is available here:

The Mail online article offends against para 1(i) of the Editors Code:
(i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

The bullet points introducing the article were not merely inaccurate but a fundamental misrepresentation of what the President said in his View. No link is given to his ‘View’ which could easily have been done and could have mitigated any inaccuracy or misleading impression given.

The reader of the article is thus left with the impression that is false:

• Too much public money is being spent on cases involving children in care:
What he in fact said was that against a background of increasing numbers of care cases being brought and no concomitant increase in the resources to deal with them being available, it is necessary to look for new, innovative and better ways of handling such cases while never departing from the fundamentals (any departure from which he would not countenance) which must recognise such cases are of unique gravity and importance and that common law principles of fairness and justice as well as Articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR, demand a process in which both parents and children can fully participate with the assistance of representation by skilled and experienced lawyers.

• Sir James Munby said cash was being ‘squandered’ on lawyers:
He did not say that cash was being squandered on lawyers, but that resources needed to be carefully husbanded and to that end investigations were being instigated to study whether it is possible, while ensuring children’s interests are properly represented, to dispense with some or all of the child’s professional team at some stages of the judicial process. [In other words, no conclusions had yet been reached]

• He said the number of taxpayer-funded professionals should be cut:
He did not say the number of professionals should be cut (still less did he “demand” this as the headline states without equivocation) but that the necessity of their involvement at all stages of the process should be investigated while not ‘watering down ‘the ‘vital component of care proceedings’, namely the tandem model whereby it can be ensured that the child’s interests, wishes and feelings are correctly identified and properly represented, and without which the potential for injustice is much increased. The only use of the word “demand” in his paper was in the context of fairness and justice ‘demanding’ that parents and children should be able fully to participate in the process with expert and experienced professional representation.

Incidentally the article says that the President said that each child should have a ‘social worker’ and a lawyer which of course he did not. He was referring to the children’s guardian.

This false impression given by the bullet point headings is then reinforced by reference in the article to the ‘scandal’ of Ben Butler getting legal representation paid for by public money (a scandal which we note The Daily Mail supported at the time of Ben Butler’s campaign for vindication). The pejorative word ‘squandered’ appears four times in a short piece.

Such inaccurate reporting as is found in this article, inhibits proper public understanding and informed discussion about issues of importance.

This is a serious concern to those or us who have signed this letter of complaint, as family law can have a significant impact on many people in very many different ways – particularly on parents in care proceedings. It is likely that this and future governments are going to have to make some hard decisions about where to spend limited public funds. It would be good to know that our national press could be relied upon to report clearly and responsibly about how the family justice system is funded and why. This article falls far short of that goal.

We hope therefore you will publish a clarification to this article and include the link to the actual words of the President.

If we do not hear from you by Wednesday September 21st, we shall refer this matter on to IPSO without further reference to yourself.

We intend to publish this letter and any response on The Transparency Project Blog.

Yours faithfully

Sarah Phillimore
on behalf of Christopher Sharp QC, Lucy Reed, and Mark Senior who have seen and approved this letter.