The judge has pronounced

Dear supporters

I am sorry to tell you that the Judge has rejected my case against IPSO; you can see his judgement here.  This is a severe disappointment to my legal team and me, and to the Hacked Off Campaign which has assisted me over the last year.   

Significantly, my legal team had assessed that I had good prospects for success and was an ideal test case; I would not have proceeded otherwise. 

To reach the hearing we had first to: (a) establish that IPSO (a private body belonging to the press) was open to Judicial Review, and therefore on some level accountable in law, and; (b) get our case accepted “on the papers”.  We reached this point on 24th October 2017, and this was already a major achievement. 

However Judge Warby, who presided over the hearing of 17th April, took a very different view.  He was highly skeptical as to the Court’s jurisdiction over IPSO and declined to reach a conclusion on the matter.   And then he rejected the case on all the three grounds we had advanced, i.e. that IPSO had:

  • rejected a complaint because the ‘wrong person” (a third party) had brought it;
  • refused to consider House of Lords evidence potentially favourable to the complainant, and;
  • employed irrational decision-making, allowing the Times and Sunday Times to publish misleading and inaccurate information so long as it appeared in ‘opinion articles’, and confusing the concepts of ‘inaccuracy’ and ‘significant inaccuracy’

The judge often used the word ‘discretion’, seemingly happy about IPSO’s use of its discretionary powers.    

Notwithstanding, every cloud has a silver lining, and there are some achievements and useful lessons for the future:

  1. This was the first ever Judicial Review of IPSO, and while the judge rejected the case, it has been formally assessed as having sufficient merit to be heard in court. On that basis, it was right and proper in terms of justice that it was heard.
  2. The case vividly demonstrates that, even if IPSO is reviewable by the court, the costs of such proceedings put such challenges far beyond the reach of the ordinary complainant; for most people IPSO is a law unto itself and there is no practical redress even if it breaches its own rules. I myself face the prospect of voluminous legal fees.
  3. The judgment has highlighted the unsatisfactory character of the rules under which IPSO adjudicated our original cases against the newspapers. Despite using the term ‘findings of fact’, the JR provided no ruling on the merits of the IPSO judgement, merely on whether, in its various points, that ruling conformed to the rules that the press industry wrote for IPSO.
  4. The judge’s ruling confirms that IPSO’s rules give it wide discretion to pick and choose on spurious grounds, notably in this case that the ‘wrong person’ had brought the complaint, or to ‘characterise’ such and such a factual assertion (e.g. that people at the meeting were calling for Israel to be ‘wiped from the map’) as an expression of opinion. IPSO often filters out complaints on such grounds, irrespective of how conclusively the evidence shows that the code may have been breached, making a mockery of the idea that this is a regulator seeking to ensure consistent respect for the industry code of practice.
  5. The ruling shows IPSO to be a complaints-handling service rather than a regulator.  Justice Warby makes clear that it lacks any inquisitorial functions and can only passively consider complaints presented to it; so much for the organisation that Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail, hailed as ‘The toughest regulator in the free world‘ back in 2014.

For these and other reasons, I shall remain in touch – – – and hope to hear back from you via this website.  Many thanks for your support, and please share this information. 

Best wishes

Jonathan Coulter (from London Borough of Bromley)

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