Following the most concentrated inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press which this country has ever seen Lord Justice Leveson has today handed down his eagerly anticipated report.

Lord Justice Leveson concludes that the Press Complaints Commission, which he describes as no more than a complaints handling body, has failed and suggests that a new regulatory body is now required.

The new regulatory body, says Lord Justice Leveson, should be truly independent of the press and of government and have the power to provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with civil claims based upon member newspaper publications.

In order to encourage membership by newspapers, Lord Justice Leveson recommends an amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules (which govern civil litigation) to allow the court to deprive those publications which do not sign up to the new regime of their legal costs of litigation in privacy, defamation and other media cases, even if it had been successful.

Sarah Bazaraa, Solicitor at law firm Pannone, said: “If implemented, the proposal could make it quicker and cheaper for claimants to bring legal actions against media organisations through an arbitration process, rather than through the courts.

“In what he describes as the “most controversial part” of his recommendations, Lord Justice Leveson says that it is “essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes”. 

“It is clear from his report that what Lord Justice Leveson is not proposing is state control or statutory regulation. However, what he is recommending is that there be enshrined in law for the first time a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press. Lord Justice Leveson suggests that Ofcom, the statutory body which oversees radio and television, be tasked with this role. Lord Justice Leveson said that the statutory body should oversee the independent regulation of the press with a statutory verification process to reassure the public that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are being met.

“The extent to which these proposals will be implemented remains to be seen. At the time of going to press, the Prime Minister is expected to comment on Lord Justice Leveson’s report. However, it is anticipated that there will be further debate on the proposals in order to ensure the correct balance is struck between the freedom of the press and the rights of the individual.”