A radio ad for James Murray Solicitors, heard on 3 November 2020, stated “I’m James Murray. And what’s more frightening than a social worker at your door to take your child. The kids are screaming, your head’s banging. Ring James Murray Solicitors, you need a friend, someone to speak up for you, a tough lawyer. A James Murray, legal fighter in court, championing your case. And don’t worry, legal aid is always available.” A phone number was also provided.
IssueThe complainant, who worked in children’s safeguarding and believed that the ad portrayed social workers being intent on taking children away from their families, challenged whether it distressed the audience without justifiable reason and was irresponsible.
James Murray Solicitors said that the intention of the ad was to make parents aware that they could seek legal help and obtain financial assistance through legal aid if their children were removed from their care. The ad illustrated how parents might face a difficult situation when child protection services were about to take their children and focused on encouraging them to seek immediate legal advice which James Murray Solicitors could provide. They said data published by the charity Family Rights Group showed that 32,000 children were taken away by social workers in 2019.
James Murray Solicitors said their senior partner had significant past experience as a social worker in a deprived area of Merseyside having to make “place of safety” decisions about children. They said parents in such situations were invariably frightened and not always aware of the legal help and legal aid available to them. They said the police and social workers present in such situations did not always tell them about seeking legal advice, despite having a legal obligation to do so. They recognised the valuable work of social workers, but said that there were occasions where their decisions were overturned by the courts.
The radio ad had been broadcast for several years and this was the first complaint that they had received about its portrayal of social workers. They said that the term “frightening” had been used to illustrate the prospect of parents being separated from their children based on a remote judge’s decision of a case submitted by a social worker and was not describing the behaviour or attitude of social workers. They felt that the ad was carefully balanced to reassure parents in a time of difficulty while also deploying a creative approach which would be recalled by people who found themselves in this position.
Radiocentre agreed with the advertiser’s response and added that they did not consider that the words “legal fighter”, “your head’s banging” and “what’s more frightening than a social worker at your door to take your child” were likely to undermine public trust in social workers. They also did not feel that the ad, when taken as a whole, was irresponsible.
The BCAP Code required ads not to cause distress without justifiable reason. The ASA understood that the complainant was concerned that the ad gave the impression that social workers sought to take away people’s children without adequate care or forethought.
We noted that the ad took a strong creative approach, describing the “frightening” sudden arrival of a social worker and that the voiceover placed a strong emphasis on them being at “your door” to take “your child”. However, we considered that description was likely to be interpreted as a realistic portrayal of how someone might feel in the circumstances of having their child removed from their care and was therefore proportionate to the seriousness of the scenario.
We also noted that the ad used voiceover to focus only on how the adult might feel and did not, for example, go so far as to feature children’s voices. While we acknowledged that the way the scenario was presented might make some people feel uncomfortable we did not consider that it was likely to cause unjustifiable distress.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social Responsibility) and 4.10 4.10 Advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason. Advertisements must not exploit the audience's fears or superstitions (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.