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Lord Justice Leveson should recommend a regulator that has teeth under a system that preserves freedom of expression, which will be no small task, says Gideon Benaim
It is crystal clear to everyone, including the leaders of the three main political parties, that self-regulation hasn’t worked; so Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations should be for independent regulation with teeth.
The only way to acquire teeth is to have statutory underpinning. The new regulator has to be able to oblige large publishers to join, it has to have powers to investigate and obligate those it is investigating to provide evidence. Also, and very importantly, it has when appropriate to be able to hand out fines of a level that will act as a proper deterrent.
Leveson should deal with the issue of timely advance notification. There should be a requirement to notify a person in advance of a proposed article relating to the core areas of their private life. This is so that would-be victims are able to take proper advice before the damage is done. In this regard, if he ignores injunctions completely he won’t be fully addressing the issue, because an effective pre-publication remedy is the most important one for victims.
Also, he should make proposals about dealing with online abuse. It would simply be a missed opportunity if he didn’t makes recommendations in respect of the internet. He should make it clear that it shouldn’t always be left to the victims of abuse to take action. Rather, the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions should be proactive, as should the new regulator. There must be a way for them to be proactive without making it worse for the victim.
Leveson should do all of this while properly preserving freedom of expression. I believe he can find the right balance. That’s all that’s required; no small ask, but doable nevertheless.