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Journalists in a tiz at Supreme Court’s win-win decision

I’m not sure quite how to say this. So I’ll say it twice:

Yesterday, a young graduate won her claim against the government’s back-to-work scheme. She argued that the regulations and the manner of their implementation were unlawful. Despite taking its case all the way to the Supreme Court, the government lost on three separate grounds.

And again:

The Supreme Court has affirmed the principle underlying the government’s back-to-work scheme. Standing outside the court, yesterday, a young graduate announced through her lawyer that she was considering taking the case to Europe. Meanwhile, the government says the scheme goes on. 

Why can’t the press report: Back-to-work scheme to continue, despite flaws in its original conception?

Both of these statement are quite correct. And, no, they don’t refer to two different cases. Press coverage leans towards the first presentation. But the Department for Work Pensions (DWP) favours the second. Not surprisingly, commentators are taking sides. Legal blogger David Allen Green tweeted that the DWP’s announcement was “incorrect and misleading”, inviting his followers to read the “damning” critique of the DWP’s stance by fellow legal journalist, Joshua Rozenberg.

Rozenberg had found himself in the intriguing position of giving evidence to a committee of MPs and peers on, amongst other things, media reporting of human rights cases only a matter of minutes after reporting on Sky News that the government lost and then being shown the DWP’s victory announcement. Rozenberg ended the day by writing the aforementioned piece for the Guardian, advocating scepticism of media reports in legal matters, but clearly (I think it’s fair to say) taking the view that the DWP’s presentation lacked fairness.

So what’s the story behind all this?

There is no doubt that the Supreme Court ruled against the regulations underlying the DWP’s back-to-work scheme. The Court also held that the regulations had not been implemented fairly. But the Court rejected a claim that the scheme amounted to forced labour and was, therefore, fundamentally unlawful. The regulations needed fixing, as did the manner of their implementation – and that (we are told) was done earlier this year. The back-to-work scheme goes on, and lawfully so.

See also:  Victim statements: are they having the wrong impact?

Now I understand why it is newsworthy whenever the government loses a court case, even on the grounds of some technicality which can be (and has been) rectified. It would have been a much bigger story if the back-to-work scheme had been declared unlawful, especially if a British Court had held that the scheme amounted to “forced labour”. But that didn’t happen.

So, faced with the actual outcome, which is the bigger story: “No, it’s not an illegal scheme” or “Re-writing the rules earlier this year was legally necessary”? Whether you’re in favour of the back-to-work scheme, against it or neutral, isn’t the news that it goes on what really matters to readers in the current economic and political climate? I’m not a journalist, but what’s wrong with reporting: Back-to-work scheme to continue, despite flaws in its original conception.

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