KENT NEWMAN AGAINST BUSINESS DESK

Case Number: 3212

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Business Desk

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Apology and Correction Sought

Overview

This is a complaint against Business Desk, asserting that it incorrectly casts XY as a lawyer, (her name is anonymized in this decision to read XY, as it is irrelevant to the complaint).  Many readers could have been led to believe that XY is a lawyer.  The error does not appear to be the fault of XY, but is rather a product of the report.  However, there was a correction made within 24 hours that was sufficient. The complaint is not upheld.

  The Article

The article featured in the Law and Regulation section of Business Desk on 22 November 2022.  It was headed “XY doesn’t care if you’re vaccinated”.  The theme of the article was that XY fearlessly acts for unvaccinated people on a no-win no-pay basis.  It traces some of her work history and discusses some of the cases she has been involved in.  There is some commentary from persons who are lawyers.  XY is vaccinated but believes that those who do not wish to be vaccinated should get the necessary legal help.

The Complaint

The complaint is simple.  The article paints XY to be a lawyer whereas she is not.  She has a law degree but she does not hold a practising certificate.

The Response

The initial response notes that XY has a Master of Law with Honours and has been admitted to the Bar.  The subsequent response to the Media Council asserts that the article is “careful NOT” to describe XY as a lawyer.  Following the complaint changes were made to the article to reflect that XY does not practise as a lawyer. She practises as an “advocate”.

 

The Discussion

  The article appears to be quite sympathetic to XY, emphasising that she is herself vaccinated but believes that people should be able to express their own views and have equal access to justice. 

In its original form, it repeatedly made statements which, in the Media Council’s view, either stated or implied that XY was a lawyer. These statements included:  

“[…] and have to challenge the Covid-19 public health legislation in multiple courts”

“taking on a client who was fired for being unvaccinated might be a dangerous move for a lawyer”

“She got into law to do one thing: provide fair and impartial legal representation”

“‘What we have in law is called the cab-rank rule’”

“XY doesn’t call herself a lawyer. She prefers advocate”

“But few – if any – lawyers seemed willing to pick up the cases. So she did.”

“‘I can say there are much, much better lawyers out there who should have been doing this work’”

“She’s progressed more vaccine-related matters than any other legal representative”

“like every other legal challenge […] XY’s claim’s […] were dismissed.”

“Like an employee who tells me they were turned away by 10 lawyers before contacting me.”

“[…] then a lawyer can arrange to work with them remotely”

“For fellow employment lawyers like […]”

“XY has been accused of being an ‘anti-vax lawyer’”

 

While there were more ambiguous words like “advocate” used also to describe her, in our view, the implication of these statements, individually and collectively, was that XY was practising as a lawyer. As the quotes show, she was referred to on the same professional basis as other lawyers, and the sentences read as though she is a lawyer like them. Phrases like “for fellow employment lawyers like …" plainly rank her as a lawyer.

Completion of a law degree and admission to the Bar do not enable persons to claim they are lawyers.  Persons can only do so if they have a yearly practising certificate, which is the way that professional standards are maintained.  As it stands the article indicates that XY is guilty of breaching ss 21, 22 and 24 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 which prohibit persons who do not have practicing certificates describing themselves as lawyers, describing themselves as lawyers as part of their business, and working in certain prohibited areas including giving legal advice and appearing as a lawyer in Court.  It is only through this prohibition that persons who may have long since become unsuited to being lawyers, are stopped from abusing the trust of the public (We add that there is nothing before us to suggest that XY was doing this).

 

There is thus a significant inaccuracy in the article, and a breach of Principle One of the Media Council Principles. 

After the initial article, a complaint was made on 22 November 2021, asserting that the article incorrectly cast XY as a lawyer. The article was altered on 23 November 2021. While denying that the article called XY a lawyer, Business Desk changed quite a number of the statements listed above, including the phrases:

“employment lawyer...” to “... of B and Associates Employment Law”

“she doesn’t call herself a lawyer” to “she doesn’t practice as a lawyer. She practices as an advocate”

The re-published article concluded with the statement:

The piece has been edited to make clear that XY practices [as] a legal advocate and not a lawyer

Contrary to the view of the complainant, we have concluded, applying principle 12 of the Media Council principles, that this was a prompt correction with fair prominence.  There is nothing to suggest that XY has suffered from the error, and she has not complained.  There is nothing to indicate that any members of the public have acted on the article to their detriment. 

While the error was significant and readers would have engaged with it, we do not think the error was deliberate or that there is any hint of malice or point scoring.  We record that Business Desk was wrong to deny its error, (while right to at the same time correct it).

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Hank Schouten, Alison Thom and Reina Vaai.

 

Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin took no part in the consideration of this complaint. 

 

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