Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press got underway today with 39 Essex Street’s Robert Jay QC opening proceedings with an outline of the course of investigations.
The silk, who is counsel to the inquiry, vowed that it would not be intimated by the “extraordinary power” of the press, warning that press regulation may be rewritten to prohibit behaviour that “currently breaks no rules”.
“We’ll be investigating an extraordinarily powerful range of institutions which have considerable control over the way in which these proceedings are reported on, commented on and analysed,” Jay said.
He added that politicians have been wary of changing the rules on press regulation because of “fear that by doing so the press would withdraw support or subject them to close personal scrutiny”.
In his opening statement Leveson LJ raised concerns that witnesses are likely to be targeted by the press, but simultaneously praised newspapers saying that they provided “an essential check on all aspects of public life”.
“I’ve absolutely no wish to stifle freedom of speech and expression, but I anticipate that monitoring will take place of press coverage over the months to come,” Leveson LJ said.
He went on to say that he considered freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be fundamental to democracy but noted that freedom “must be exercised with the rights of others in mind”.
Witnesses who have been granted ‘core participant’ status (15 September 2011) are expected to give evidence next week. They include parents of missing child Madeleine McCann, author JK Rowling and actor Hugh Grant.
The 53 core participants, represented by 5RB’s David Sherborne, will be allowed to make opening and closing statements, cross-examine witnesses and testify personally or via a lawyer.
News International, the owner of the now defunct News of the World as well as The Sunday Times and The Sun has been given core participant status as has Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers and Northern & Shell, owner of the Express newspapers. Also included is Guardian News & Media.
News International is being represented by One Essex Court’s Rhodri Davies QC, who was instructed by Linklaters partner Alan Walls.
Last week, Leveson LJ visited the newsrooms of the Daily Mailand Daily Mirror, where he toured the editorial floors in a bid to ‘fill in the gaps’ on how newspapers operate.
Among Leveson LJ’s six-member panel of advisers is the Financial Times’ former chairman Sir David Bell and the Daily Telegraph’s ex-political editor George Jones.