Coulter v Independent Press Standards Organisation CIC (IPSO)

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) is a not-for-profit community interest company regulating newspaper and magazine publishers that have agreed to be subject to its regulation. It has no statutory remit but performs the role of an independent regulator of the press, essentially a form of 'self-regulation'. In this capacity it has taken on the role of determining complaints made against a publisher which has agreed to its jurisdiction.

Mr Coulter complained to IPSO that reports in certain newspapers about a campaign meeting held at the House of Lords were inaccurate and misleading and therefore in breach of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld and Mr Coulter challenged that decision on the basis that IPSO: (a) had mishandled the complaint by declining to assess it on the basis that it was a third party complaint; (b) was in breach of a duty of sufficient inquiry, by failing to take account of a report of the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct (the Report); and (c) had applied an incorrect and irrational standard of review.

This was the first time that a judicial review of an IPSO decision had been sought. Although IPSO did not contest the claim on the basis that it was not amenable to judicial review, the judge nevertheless sought submissions on the point. This was on the basis that the question of amenability was not a matter which could be determined by agreement of the parties.

In the event, because the Court dismissed the substantive claim on all of the grounds of challenge, it declined to decide the jurisdiction issue. This leaves open the possibility that IPSO can contest any future claim on the basis that it is not amenable to challenge by way of judicial review.

On the substantive issues the Court ruled that IPSO had a degree of discretion to consider complaints of inaccuracy when raised by third parties and it had exercised this discretion appropriately. The Court also noted that IPSO's complaints handling service was not an inquisitorial function. It was for IPSO to decide the questions before it on the evidence available to it. The Report had only been placed before it after its investigation had concluded and when the decision-making process was well advanced. Accordingly IPSO's decisions not to uphold the complaint were rationally made.