The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has upheld in part a complaint made by Leigh Day against The Sun over its coverage of the ultimately unsuccessful disciplinary case brought against the law firm.
The article in July 2018, both in print and online, reported that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had launched an appeal to overturn the decision by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to “clear legal firm Leigh Day of slurring Brit troops”.
It reported that the firm had “accused soldiers of torturing and murdering Iraqi detainees”, but that a £31m inquiry in 2014 had found that the claims were “deliberate lies”. It also stated that “Leigh Day has always denied wrongdoing”.
Leigh Day complained that, while the public inquiry had found that the claims of murder and torture made by Iraqi civilians were fraudulent, it had not made any findings on the actions of the firm.
Further, it said the article had mischaracterised the nature of the SRA’s grounds for appeal, that it was inaccurate to say the firm had been accused of “slurring” British troops, and that a particular allegation against partner Martyn Day had been imputed against the whole firm.
In response, The Sun argued that the SRA alleged solicitors at the firm had adopted the false claims as their own, and as such it was not inaccurate to report that the firm’s statements had been found to be “deliberate lies”.
It said readers would be aware that a law firm was made up of the humans associated with it, and in the circumstances where the 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.
The IPSO complaints committee found that the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the report of the inquiry’s findings.
“The article had given the misleading impression that the inquiry had found that the complainant had been knowingly dishonest. This was a serious and potentially damaging misleading impression that related directly to the professional conduct of the firm.”
This required correction, but “referring to the firm, rather than an individual solicitor, particularly in circumstances where the individual was a partner, and namesake of the firm, was not misleading”.
It continued: “The committee noted that one of the SRA allegations on appeal was that claims of torture and murder made by the complainant’s clients, had been personally endorsed by a solicitor at a press conference.
“The SRA’s allegation was that the respondent had gone beyond simply repeating these serious claims of misconduct made by his clients, but had instead ‘personally endorsed’ these allegations allegedly in breach of his professional obligations.
“The newspaper was entitled to characterise this as ‘slurring’ of British troops. There was no failure to take care in this characterisation of the SRA’s allegations, and no inaccuracy requiring correction.”
The committee decided that, given the serious nature of the claims, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an upheld adjudication in the paper.
It said the adjudication should be published on page 5 – where the original article had been – or further forward, and also online.
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.”