In July 2011, David Cameron announced an inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Leveson to investigate the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal. Almost one year on, the relationship of the press with the public, the police and politicians has come under intense scrutiny in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice.
A team of lawyers from Collyer Bristow led by Dominic Crossley has been involved from the outset, representing the interests of the "core participant victims" in the Inquiry. Before incurring the wrath of Leveson LJ, I should make clear I am not a part of that team having been tied up in litigation, mainly the Chris Cairns v Lalit Modi libel trial.
Leveson LJ is due to make recommendations in September of this year as to the future regulation and governance of the press in this country. Can we anticipate what some of those recommendations may be?
In his lines of questioning, Leveson LJ has given indications of the issues that particularly interest him and the mechanisms he might recommend are put in place to ensure the future freedom of the press in this country, which he has made clear he does not wish to imperil, whilst ensuring that the press start to behave more responsibly.
Leveson LJ's hot topics include:
- Regulation: the press have complained that unless they are able to continue self-regulating England will end up like the Soviet Union. On the other side of the fence, there are those demanding that following the abuses and criminal behavior revealed in the phone-hacking scandal thus far, and the evidence of the victims at the start of the Tnquiry, the only solution is strong statutory regulation. Surely it is not that black and white; there must be some sensible middle ground that can be reached? That appears to be the approach Leveson LJ is taking. He has argued (without coming to a conclusion) that the press must be subject to some new form of regulation and that any regulator must be independent of the government, Parliament and, unlike the much impugned Press Complaint's Commission (PCC), it must also be independent of the press. It is difficult to see how this can be done without a statute somewhere in the background.
- Resolving disputes without litigation: It seems that Leveson LJ may favour some sort of tribunal system in which complaints can be resolved without recourse to the civil courts and the vast expense that can lead to. Before the introduction of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) through the Access to Justice Act 1998 libel and privacy claims were the preserve of the rich and famous. When funding reforms resulting from the Jackson Report are enacted this will leave the vast majority of the public again in a position where they cannot afford to issue legal proceedings. Leveson LJ recognises that the general public must have the ability to resolve disputes quickly and cost effectively. It is not clear at this stage what the composition of such a tribunal would be.
- Prior notification: Leveson LJ has indicated that whatever new regulatory regime comes in, it could have a mechanism by which a newspaper editor can consult the new independent regulator about the merits of publishing a story without notifying the subject of the story. The regulator's recommendation would not bind the editor, but Leveson LJ has intimated that if the editor were to publish private information without notifying the continued from previous page...
subject of the story, or against the recommendation of the regulator, the appropriate sanction to be imposed could be exemplary damages.
There is no doubt these are interesting times that will shape the way the media and media lawyers operate for many years to come. Watch this space…