Chairs in cafeteria

Details of the new inquiry into press regulation and phone-hacking

13 July 2011. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

It had been thought that the Prime Minister had pledged to set up two separate inquiries: one into phone-hacking and one into press regulation more generally.

It now emerges that there is to be one inquiry split into two parts.  The inquiry will be chaired by a Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Leveson.  The first part of the inquiry will be "a full review of the regulation of the press".   The second part will be "an investigation into the wrongdoing of the press and police, including the failure of the first police inquiry".

The inquiry will be established under the 2005 Inquiries Act and have the power to summon witnesses to give evidence under oath and in public.  Lord Justice Leveson "will be assisted by a panel of senior independent figures with “relevant expertise” in media, broadcasting, regulation and government".  The members of this panel have not been identified (and probably haven't been selected yet).

The first part of the inquiry will report within 12 months to the Home and Culture Secretaries.  The second part of the inquiry will be "considered in light of the ongoing criminal proceedings".

The terms of reference of the inquiry nowhere mention the word "privacy" and there is a strong emphasis on investigating the relationships between the press, police and politicians.  It is nonetheless obvious that the inquiry will touch on issues of press intrusion.  The terms of reference of the first part of the inquiry cover "the culture, practices, and ethics of the press, including ... the extent to which there was a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct".  The terms of reference of the second part demand an inquiry into "the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other newspaper organisations".

It is not entirely clear if the process envisages that the inquiry should make findings or recommendations as to the substantive law governing the protection of personal privacy from press intrusion.  The terms call for recommendations for "how future concerns about press behaviour ... should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including Parliament, Government, the prosecuting authorities and the police" and for "a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the  plurality of the media and its independence from Government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards."  This certainly seems to envisage regulatory change in the media industry (the Press Complaints Commission is officially moribund), but it does not suggest that legislative change is necessarily called for.

See further chapter 11 of The Privacy Law Handbook

Thought - Prime Minister's pledge