The Sun newspaper will have to publish a correction online and in print after making a ‘significantly misleading’ statement in relation to human rights firm Leigh Day.
The paper reported in July 2018 on the SRA launching an appeal against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal decision to clear Leigh Day and three of its solicitors of misconduct.
The print article said the SDT had decided to ‘clear Leigh Day of slurring British troops’ and reported that the firm ‘accused soldiers of torturing and murdering Iraqi detainees’, and that a 2014 public inquiry found the claims were ‘deliberate lies’.
The online article carried the headline ‘War slurs Appeal launched to overturn decision to clear legal firm Leigh Day of slurring British troops.’ Under one image was the caption: ‘A £31 million inquiry in 2014 found the claims made by Leigh Day in 2014 were ‘deliberate lies’.’
Leigh Day complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on the grounds that it was inaccurate to say the public inquiry made any findings on the actions of the firm. The firm also argued the article mischaracterised the nature of the SRA’s grounds for appeal and had been wrong to accuse Leigh Day of ‘slurring’ British troops. The firm further noted that the article appeared to conflate allegations made against one solicitor with Leigh Day as a whole.
The Sun did not accept it breached the editor’s code, stressing that the 2014 inquiry had found that accusations made against British soldiers were ‘the product of deliberate lies’, and the SRA alleged that Leigh Day solicitors had adopted these claims as their own.
The newspaper said that readers would be aware that a law firm was made up of the humans associated with it, and in the circumstances where a particular individual was one of the most senior solicitors at the firm, and indeed was a founding partner, it was not inaccurate to refer to the claims as being made by the firm in general.
An IPSO ruling published today found that the article gave the misleading impression that the inquiry found Leigh Day had been knowingly dishonest. ‘This was a serious and potentially damaging misleading impression that related directly to the professional conduct of the firm,’ said the ruling.
IPSO upheld Leigh Day’s complaint and ordered that its adjudication be published on page five or further forward (the original article having appeared on page five). The headline of this article will have to make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint.
The adjudication must also be published online, featuring on the top half of the homepage for 24 hours.
In a statement, Gideon Habel, an associate in Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team, who brought the complaint on behalf of the firm, said: 'We made this complaint to protect the firm’s reputation in the face of baseless allegations made by The Sun during high-profile regulatory proceedings.
'Those proceedings entirely exonerated the firm and its solicitors of any misconduct. This is the second complaint IPSO has upheld in recent months relating to The Sun’s reporting on the firm. We fully support the media in its vital work of holding our government, public and private institutions to account but it is essential that it does that work responsibly and that it can be held to account when it falls short.'
A Sun spokesman said: 'We defended the claim robustly and are disappointed by the ruling. It is worth noting the ruling went against us on only one of the many claims made.'