IMPRESS reject arbitration and compensation claim from ex MP over Esther Baker investigation story
The press regulator, IMPRESS, has refused a request for arbitration and compensation from former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, over an article published on this platform last September when the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to issue criminal proceedings against the ex MP and two other people over allegations of child sex abuse from Esther Baker.
The article reported, almost in full, statements issued by Staffordshire Police and the ex MP after the decision was announced by the CPS. The CPS concluded there was " insufficient evidence " to proceed, the ex MP said he had been the subject of false allegations.
Since then Esther Baker has appealed the CPS decision and a ruling is expected some time in the autumn.
My own blog is not directly covered by the regulator, IMPRESS, but because I cross post articles on the independent platform, Byline, it is indirectly covered since Byline has agreed to be regulated by IMPRESS.
IMPRESS'S regulatory committee ruled that the article on its own could not been seen as Mr Hemming claimed as " harassment". And it dismissed his claim for compensation by saying that any alleged harm caused to Mr Hemming by this article was " trivial " and " too insignificant to meet the test " for a claim.
For the record and to prevent other people putting any spin on this decision this is the text of the ruling sent to Byline:
"I am writing to advise you that an IMPRESS Regulatory Committee recently met to consider John Hemming’s request for arbitration. Having carefully considered his request in accordance with the IMPRESS procedures they have decided that the request is not suitable for arbitration under the CIArb/IMPRESS Arbitration Scheme. The reasons for their decision are set out below.
Reasons for Board arbitration suitability decision:
Rule 8.3 of the IMPRESS Regulatory Scheme requires the Board to make an administrative assessment of whether a claim is covered by the scheme. For the avoidance of doubt, this decision is not based on an assessment of the merits of a claim.
Rule 46 of the Regulatory Scheme Procedures provides six administrative criteria that need to be satisfied before a claim can be accepted under the scheme.
The Board considered each of these in turn:
(i) The claim is made against a publisher regulated by IMPRESS.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim was made against a publisher (Byline) that was regulated by IMPRESS at the time of the act complained of (6 September 2017).
(ii) The claim is related to one of the areas of law covered by the scheme.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim related to an area of law covered by the scheme, namely defamation and harassment. With regards to the claim for harassment however, though this related to one of the areas covered by the scheme, the Committee determined that the claim for harassment did not satisfy the relevant test. This was because, under a claim for harassment, a ‘course of conduct’ required two or more events to be characterised as such. The claimant therefore could not bring a claim against the publisher for the publication of one article.
(iii) The claim is not a pre-publication matter where it is appropriate for it to be directed to the courts.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim did not relate to a pre-publication matter where it was appropriate for it to be directed to the courts.
(iv) The claim provides a clear statement setting out the harm or financial loss suffered by the claimant.
The Committee was not satisfied that the claim clearly set out the harm or financial loss that the claimant had suffered as a result of the published article. It noted that the claimant largely relied on the fact that the article was part of a wider campaign against him which he accepted that Byline was not a party to.
(v) The claim describes a specific action or activity of a publisher that has caused the alleged harm or financial loss.
The Committee was not satisfied that the claimant adequately described how it was the article published by Byline that caused the alleged harm and loss to the claimant. This is because, although the claimant identified specific harm and loss caused by the ‘wider campaign’, the claimant failed to specify any harm or loss which arose as a direct result of the article published by Byline. The Committee determined that any harm or loss caused to the claimant by the publisher was trivial or incidental in conjunction with the remainder, and was thus too insignificant to meet the test.
(vi) The claimant explains why the complaint is not suitable for resolution by the IMPRESS complaints procedure.
The Committee accepted that given that (i) the complaint did not, on the face of it, appear to engage the Standards Code and (ii) the claimant sought financial compensation as a remedy, it was not suitable for resolution by the IMPRESS complaints procedure.
In conclusion, the Committee decided that the claimant’s request for arbitration should be refused on the grounds that parts (iv) and (v) of the test were not met.