Dominic Lawson

Sunday Times

If a vital measure of a columnist is to be influential, in terms of forcing the government’s hand, or just changing the public discourse, then Dominic Lawson fulfils those objectives more than any other. He was the first columnist to identify the trend of the most heinous offenders refusing to face their sentencing after conviction, and the first to say that the sadistic killer of Zara Aleena should have received a whole life sentence (‘Zara Aleena’s killer should die in prison’, 18th Dec 2022). Lawson also, in the course of preparing the column, spoke to the then Justice Secretary, who told him on the record that the govt. would legislate to compel attendance at sentencing. This meant the Sunday Times gained a front page news exclusive on the back of the concession our columnist extracted. Subsequently, the government also agreed to legislate to make whole life terms the default sentence for any sexually motivated sadistic murder, specifically citing the Zara Aleena case.

Another example of Lawson’s power to influence debate—in this case challenging conventional opinion—was his column of March 12th 2023 (‘Trophy Hunters are not the lion’s real enemy’). Up until then, not a single columnist or newspaper leader had opposed the government’s legislation to ban hunting trophy imports. But Lawson spoke to those on the ground, notably in Botswana, who explained how their communities benefited from the hunters—and how the evidence showed that where such licensed hunting was banned, such as in Kenya, the ‘protected’ species concerned actually suffered much greater losses. As a result of this hugely influential column, the terms of public debate, hitherto entirely one-sided, changed: and, as Lawson predicted, the House of Lords then provided the balanced and expert debate that the Commons had failed to produce: the Hunting Trophy (Import Prohibition) Bill fell.

However Lawson is also capable of writing moving columns based on personal experience. None more so than the one published in the week of his father’s death (‘My father would tell me to be objective. I’ll try’. April 9th 2023). Although the late Chancellor and former journalist turned politician was a controversial political figure, this column was received with enormous warmth from readers, not least because it was an account of a father-son relationship with which so many could identify. And it was also, in part, a column about journalism: the vital trade which these awards celebrate.