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Complainant Name:
Shoaib Khan

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Daily Mail


Shoaib Khan complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Democracy? No, Britain's now a judicial dictatorship - and it's time for revolution", published in the Daily Mail on 13 August 2014, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. The complaint was on-going as of 8 September 2014, at the time of the closure of the PCC. It was therefore considered by the Complaints Committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation in accordance with the procedures of the PCC.

The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant said that the article, a comment piece criticising the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), was inaccurate on a number of counts. It stated that a case concerning voting rights for prisoners "has been rumbling on for almost a decade, at goodness knows what cost in time and money", noting that it had "originally been brought by ten men ... among them notorious repeat sex offenders". The case in question had been brought in 2009 and was not a "decade" old. The complainant denied the columnist's contention that limitations to the right to family life provided for under Article 8 (ii) of the European Convention - for public safety, crime prevention and national security - "are rarely invoked". To the contrary, he said, they are invoked in nearly all cases where the state seeks to defend a claim under Article 8. The columnist went on to discuss a case in which a Bangladeshi man previously convicted of double murder was given a spousal visa to stay in the UK and commented, "What's the betting he goes straight on to benefits?" The complainant said that this would mislead readers; this individual would be barred from claiming benefits.

The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to state that "no one has ever had the chance to vote" for ECtHR judges, and to suggest that the ECtHR was a "judicial dictatorship". The UK's Supreme Court was not "Blairite" or "European", and the claim that an individual's pet cat had been "cited as evidence of his right to remain" in the UK misleadingly suggested that this was decisive in the outcome of that case.

The newspaper denied that the reference to the prisoners' voting case was significantly inaccurate; the debate over the issue had been on-going for over a decade. Nonetheless, it amended the online article to state that the "question has been rumbling on for almost a decade" and added a footnote to the article. Late in the correspondence, the newspaper also offered a print clarification on this point, while maintaining that there was no breach of the Editors' Code. The newspaper also amended the reference to Article 8 to state that exceptions were rarely "successfully" invoked. It argued that this was implicit in the columnist's argument, and said that this reflected a perception held by the Prime Minister - and many of his advisors - that the ECtHR routinely fails to apply the exceptions to Article 8 in right to family life cases.

The newspaper defended its reference to the Bangladeshi man's ability to claim benefits. It said that the phrase "what's the betting" indicates in colloquial speech that the statement that follows has been exaggerated for ironic effect. The reference to the individual claiming benefits was a satirical comment which expressed the columnist's view that foreign criminals who misuse the right to a family life to gain a right to stay in the UK are likely to be "scroungers". While the newspaper accepted that the immigration rules would generally prevent such an individual from claiming benefits, it maintained that in exceptional circumstances he might be entitled to make a claim on public funds. Nonetheless, late in the correspondence, the newspaper removed this reference from the online article, and offered to clarify the matter in print.

The newspaper stated that, while there was an election process for ECtHR judges, they were not elected by popular mandate in the same way as Members of Parliament. It noted that the UK's Supreme Court had been established by the Government of Tony Blair, and that such courts were a feature of the constitutions of many continental European countries. It defended the article as a comment piece, in which the writer was entitled to express his view that the ECtHR was a "judicial dictatorship". It was not inaccurate to report that a pet cat was "cited in evidence" before the courts.

Not Upheld


While the Committee noted the complainant's points about the article's inaccuracies in relation to the European Court of Human Rights and the application of Article 8, the purpose of the piece was to express the columnist's disapproval of a range of institutions and individuals. The inaccuracies did not materially affect the criticism advanced by the columnist, and in the context of this piece - self-evidently a piece of polemic, expressing a strong view on a matter of general debate - they were not significant. The fact that the case referred to by the columnist had been on-going for five years rather than ten did not materially affect the point that the columnist was making, that the case had been on-going for a significant period and had involved considerable cost. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that, contrary to the assertion by the columnist, exceptions to Article 8 are routinely invoked, it decided that the reference was not significantly misleading in the context of a piece attacking the increasing reliance on Article 8, given that the article did make clear that there are a number of exceptions which qualify the right to family life.

Furthermore, the reference to a potential claim by the Bangladeshi man was clearly distinguished as conjecture. While there is a process for electing judges to the court based on votes by representatives of member countries of the Council of Europe, this is distinct from a popular election in which ordinary people are able to vote. In the context of concerns that judges on the ECtHR are insufficiently accountable to the public, it was not misleading for the columnist to have suggested that "no one" had had the chance to vote for them. The columnist was entitled to express his view that the ECtHR was a "judicial dictatorship", and that the UK's Supreme Court was "Blairite" or "European", on the basis that it had been established while Tony Blair was Prime Minister and had similarities to constitutional courts found in some continental European countries. Finally, the article had not suggested that an individual's pet had been relied upon by a court in reaching a decision on an Article 8 case; rather, it reported that this had been "cited in evidence". While the judgement had ultimately been set aside, it was a matter of public record that the pet had been cited in this context.

Date Published:

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