Barrister Barbara Rich criticises media coverage of Court of Protection cases

Barbara Rich, a barrister who is a member of 5 Stone Buildings, has criticised “mainstream media” for its incompetence in reporting of Court of Protection (CoP) cases. Writing in the Solicitors Journal, she accused the broadsheet newspapers of publishing “careless headlines” and making “fundamental inaccuracies” in their coverage of a recent court hearing.

Her article coincided with the start of a pilot scheme intended to allow reporters and members of the public access to previously private CoP hearings.

Pointing to headlines on reports of a CoP case involving “the woman who had ‘lost her sparkle’ and wished to refuse life-saving treatment”, she wrote: “At least three broadsheet newspapers published articles under headlines containing the words ‘right to die’ and suggested that the court had ‘granted’ (the woman) such a right... The case was not about the right to die [because] no such right exists. Nearly as misleading is the suggestion that the court ‘grants’ individual adults any exercise of rights.”

Barbara Rich argued that journalists appeared to misunderstand “the presumption of capacity” and the description of people at the centre of proceedings as “sick and vulnerable” is “misinformation”. She wrote that the use of the “sick and vulnerable” phrase “originated in a news agency report in 2014 and has been frequently cut and pasted by newspapers and the BBC since.”

She wrote: “The media has a vital role in bringing Court of Protection cases to wider public awareness. But, to date, the work even of the serious media has largely failed to accurately explain what the court does and does not decide.

“It would be over-lawyerly to expect the media to explain this distinction, but it is thoroughly unhelpful to use the word ‘vulnerable’ in the Court of Protection context.

“These fundamental inaccuracies form the bedrock of tendentious opinion pieces not worth the paper or bandwidth they consume, and do nothing to support the court’s transparency project or enhance public understanding of the law.

“The public, the court, and its users deserve a higher standard of writing, editing, and insight into opinions formed by the media.”

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