Last month we noticed that Mail Online had published a correction. Going under the headline Correction: High Court judgment on Nikah Marriage divorce petition, this was not an apology but rather it was The Mail complying with a ruling from regulator IPSO.
The Mail forgot to link to the ruling to help readers understand what the non-apology was all about, but we’ve found it for them and you can read it here.
To be fair to The Mail, we wrote about the reporting of this case at the time, and whilst we didn’t think many of the newspapers who covered it had got it right, we did acknowledge that it was a tricky subject to cover accurately and accessibly and in a way that would engage readers – because of some technical language. The post we wrote can be read here : Void, Valid and Very Confusing – what is the status of Sharia Marriages in the UK?.
The person complaining to IPSO argued that contrary to the article, the British court had not “recognised” Sharia law; and said that no reasonable reading of the judgment could find that the judge had incorporated or accepted Sharia Law into English Law. They referred IPSO to relevant parts of the judgment to make good this point.
The decision is actually interesting for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Mail argued that ‘IPSO should not consider the complaint, as the complainant was a third party, with no direct involvement in the case. It also said that the complainant was seeking to argue a matter of opinion as to the interpretation of the judge’s decision.’ These are familiar points to us, as the Mail have run similar arguments when we have complained to IPSO in the past. On this occasion IPSO took a consistent approach to that taken in the course of our last complaint :
The Committee rejected the publication’s argument that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the complaint on the basis that the complainant was seeking to argue a point of opinion. The complainant had explained why he believed the article had contained inaccurate, misleading and distorted information; this was the complainant’s explanation as to why a publicly available judgment was reported inaccurately, and his complaint under Clause 1. Further, the absence of any input from the parties most closely involved, did not prohibit the Committee from making an objective determination on the care taken over the reporting of a publicly available judgment, and adequate information had been presented before it, in order to do so. There is also a public interest in ensuring that court cases are reported accurately.
Quite apart from these jurisdictional issues, the Mail argued that it had not breached the code at all, and it did not accept that the article had given the misleading impression that the couple’s marriage was considered to have a legal status akin to that of a marriage conducted under English law. This sits somewhat at odds with the fact that it removed a passage and also amended the article and “as a gesture of goodwill” added the following passage:
[The judge] said the marriage was considered to be void under section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 due to it having been “entered into in disregard of certain requirement as to the formation of marriage”. This meant that [the wife] was “entitled to a decree of nullity”. Previously, Nikah marriages had been deemed legally non-existent, meaning that any party wishing to terminate the marriage had no legal recourse for any division of assets. The implications of the judgment are that women married in an Islamic faith ceremony will have an easier time securing a divorce in the UK, paving the way for them to claim half their husband’s assets”.
The ruling commences uncontroversially :
The Committee recognised that the term “valid” has a legal meaning, as well as a general one. The media plays an important role in reporting on complex and nuanced legal cases in an accessible way. The Committee’s role was to consider the meaning of the article, and how it would be understood by the general public. The publication was entitled to report on the case in a way which would be understood to its readership, provided that in doing so, it had taken care not to publish the judge’s findings in an inaccurate, misleading or distorted way.
Without going into all the technical legal detail that the case involved, the Committee considered the failure to make clear the significant distinction between a marriage conducted under UK law, and a marriage which conferred limited rights on the parties was significantly misleading, and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii) of the Editors Code.
Clause 1(ii) provides :
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.
Although the Mail had removed references to “valid” from the article, and had amended the piece to make clear that that the marriage was “void” under section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, no footnote clarification had been published to record the amendments which had been made. This also represented a breach of Clause 1(ii).
It is interesting to note that whilst the Mail had taken some steps to adjust its piece in light of complaint, it had not gone far enough for IPSO, and in particular its failure to transparently record its corrections and edits meant that IPSO imposed the requirement that the Mail publish a standalone correction and footnote that correction in the original article.
As far as we can tell, none of the similar articles published by other newspapers were the subject of complaint to IPSO (or, if they were, nothing is yet published on their site).