In 2003 Juliet Shaw received a request from a freelance journalist writing for the Daily Mail to take part in a feature about the benefits of moving from city to the country. She had just moved from Manchester to Cumbria after an acrimonious relationship breakdown. The article ran in the Femail section of the Daily Mail in September 2003 (‘Sex and the country. What happened when four singletons, fed up with shallow urban lives, upped sticks for rural romance.’)
Juliet was appalled by the resulting article. It bore little or no relationship to her reality or the interview. You can read Juliet’s account of what happened; about the impact a deliberately misleading article had on the life of an ordinary person; and her ensuing battle for justice on the No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands blog here.
It is a powerful read and, judging by the hundreds of supportive comments, struck a chord. As the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade put it ‘the devil is in the detail of the enticement and subsequent catalogue of falsehoods’. And as he urges don’t give up half way ‘because the legal dénouement is especially important to grasp’. ‘However much we may rail against the iniquities of the libel law, Ms Shaw’s story shows why the public do not share our enthusiasm for press freedom.’
Juliet has written a follow up to that original blog for the Justice Gap concentrating on her experiences of the law and giving her thoughts on libel reform.
Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust and co-founder of the Hacked Off campaign, has read both Juliet’s original blog and the Justice Gap blog. ‘Juliet Shaw’s ordeal yet again underlines the urgent need to change the government’s planned reforms to civil litigation costs,’ he says. Ministers are proposing to reform ‘no win, no fee’ or conditional fee agreements. This would mean that the other side (the publisher, in this case) would no longer be liable for the legal costs of someone suing them plus, critically, the cost of the insurance policy a claimant has to take out covering their exposure to the other sides’ costs. As Moore says: ‘If the government’s plans go through unchanged many people, who like Shaw do not have the money to take on big corporations, will be blocked from access to justice.’
It should be noted Juliet Shaw could NOT find a lawyer to take her case on even with the present system of conditional fees.
READ JULIET SHAW’S BLOG FOR THE JUSTICE GAP HERE.
‘The people who will be most affected by these changes are the people who have most to lose. ‘Ordinary’ people who believe what they read in the papers and happily agree to give interviews and pose for photographs with no idea that their words will be twisted and their stories fabricated to fit an unknown agenda. People who don’t have PR agencies to launch damage limitation exercises when they’re misrepresented. People who have to go about their daily business burning with shame. People who stand to lose livelihoods or relationships as a result of the lies that have been printed supposedly in their own words, all for the sake of sexing up a story that wasn’t deemed juicy enough or didn’t quite fit the brief the journalist was given. These people have no public platform to renounce the lies, and with these changes to libel laws the only chance they had of accessing justice is being taken away.’ Juliet Shaw
Jon is editor of www.thejusticegap.com. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009 – with Steve Hynes) and People Power: how to run a campaign (Daily Telegraph and LawPack, 2008). Jon is a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and a patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He won the Bar Council's legal reporting award in 2015 and previously in 2005.