The unfolding media coverage of the Yemshaw judgment has resembled a game of chinese whispers. As mentioned in last week’s news roundup the Daily Mail ran an article on the judgment entitled “Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home.” The article contained a number of inaccuracies, and cited a ‘family law expert’ of somewhat dubious provenance. A comment by Christina Odone in The Telegraph followed. She argued that the decision showed ignorance of both cultural differences (Odone’s comment was predicated on the fact that as an Italian, her general decibel level is louder than most, so under the new judgment she is liable to be found guilty of domestic violence) and of ‘real’ – i.e. physical – instances of domestic violence.

In the course of these two articles, the ratio of the judgment had become distorted from ‘Domestic violence’ in the Housing Act 1996, s 177(1) included physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, might give rise to the risk of harm’ to ‘shout at your partner and you are guilty of domestic abuse.’ As a number of commentators have pointed out, this is a cause for serious concern. Charon QC argues that if we are to have a credible rule of law of any meaning, it is important that law and legal events, judgments and the like, are reported accurately and fairly. Similarly, the UK Human Rights Blog deplores that fact that “some newspapers continue to place rulings into convenient and over-simplified tropes, rather than explaining them properly to the general public.” The problem is compounded when articles reference ‘experts’ on the relevant issue, who then turn out to have little or no genuine expertise.

The difficult question is how to address the problem. One option is to complain to the Press Complaints Commission. Another is to trust that others in possession of the correct facts will counter inaccurate reports (as has happened in the Yemshaw), but that does little to repair the damage caused by the original article. Or is it a case of throwing up one’s hands and accepting that some newspapers will always sacrifice accuracy for a good story? Suggestions on a postcard please.