Leading media lawyers have set out their expectations of Lord Justice Leveson ahead of the Thursday (29 November) publication of his inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.
Publication of the report comes after a year-long inquiry into the press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the now-defunct News of the World (NoW).
Director of editorial legal services at Guardian News & Media Gill Phillips says the report provided a “historic opportunity”, though warned that it will make uncomfortable reading for some sections of the press (27 November 2012 ).
Nevertheless, she continues: “Many of the allegations about press abuses that came out during the inquiry were historic and […] there is little if any evidence of those practices continuing today. [The report] should avoid tarring all the media with the same brush”.
Former Associated Newspapers legal director Harvey Kass, who is now a consultant with Finers Stephens Innocent, says the issue of press regulation should not become a party political football, but that the media should be subject to independent regulations with sanctions that have teeth (26 November 2012).
He adds: “Alongside this we need police that enforce the raft of criminal laws that fully cover most of what has gone wrong. We have newspapers that are the envy of the world. Across the political spectrum they share the view that legislation is not the way forward” .
RPC partner Keith Mathieson, who regularly advises The Sun and the Daily Mail, agrees, adding that any model proposed by Leveson LJ must maintain a sense of proportionality (26 November 2012).
Leveson LJ, he says, should have “an acceptance that freedom of expression includes the right to cause disturbance, upset, offence and even outrage and an understanding that if the press doesn’t get things wrong from time to time, it’s not trying hard enough” .
Claimant lawyers, however, are unanimous in their call for a new system of press regulation and hope to see Leveson LJ propose an alternative dispute resolution model specifically for the media.
Mishcon de Reya partner Charlotte Harris, who appeared before Leveson LJ and acted for claimants on a number of phone-hacking cases against NoW, says: “It is […] thought that there may be a tribunal or system of arbitration that would benefit both press and victims of the press” (27 November 2012).
“It is clear that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has failed to protect victims from unjustified press intrusion – highlighted, most publicly – by the recent phone-hacking scandal,” adds Carter Ruck solicitor Richard Hodge (27 November 2012).
Michael Simkins partner Gideon Benaim argues that a new regulator is necessary following the failures of the PCC and that any regulatory structure ought 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,” he suggests. “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.”
Matrix Chambers Hugh Tomlinson QC, who was instructed by Benaim for footballer Ryan Giggs in his battles with the press (8 October 2012), contends that media outlets that reach a certain circulation figure or set turnover should be compelled to join a regulatory body (26 November 2012).
He suggests: “In this system regulated publishers would have important advantages over others. They would have additional defences in libel and privacy actions. Most importantly, they would have the benefit of a compulsory system of alternative dispute resolution.
“Anyone who wanted to sue them would first have to use the regulator’s system of adjudication. This would improve access to justice and save the press millions in legal costs.”