The Practical Implementation of the Findings from the Leveson Inquiry Report

Brief outline of the inquiry

The purpose of the inquiry was to inquire into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press[1] and suggest recommendations based upon its findings which were;; 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, including from government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards[2]. The inquiry was reactionary to the discovery that News International had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler and victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. Lord Justice Leveson found that the existing regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), was not fit for purpose and a new body was needed with a plethora of sanctions available to it along with an inquisitorial arbitration service for Tort claims.[3]

The current law and the gaps

In order to accurately determine whether the Inquiry actually had any practical implications we need to examine current law, namely the Defamation Act[4] and the Freedom of Information Act[5].Additionally the influence the inquiry has had upon Human Rights[6] shall come under scrutiny. Firstly s.4(1) of the Defamation Act allows the defence of public interest (which is not defined in the act), additionally the person publishing has to believe what is being published is in the public interest. Furthermore s.4(3)[7] and s.4(4)[8] both state that the courts, when determining whether or not a statement is in the public interest; must disregard any omission by the publisher to verify the truth[9] and any editorial judgement call[10].

In continuation S.4(6)[11] eliminates the Reynolds Defence[12] of 'honest journalism' and replaces it with the 'public interest' defence, however the question remains as to whether phone hacking constitutes being in the public interest. The Freedom of Information Act[13] allows the any legal entity such as the BBC. ; is subject to the act; when information which is not held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature in order to prevent its journalistic activities from possible compromise. In short if they do not believe it to be part of what they are doing, there is no obligation to reveal the information in their possession. Within such wide a scope the BBC can withhold information and in turn under the Defamation Act[14] can publish it as long as it falls within the breadth of public interest.

In the he case of Sugar v BBC & Anor 2012[15] the Supreme Court rejected the submission that information would only fall outside the scope of the BBC's obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000; if it was held exclusively for the purposes of journalism. Such an interpretation was held to be too restrictive, and would disproportionately inhibit the ability of public service broadcasters such as the BBC to function without the threat of having to publicly disclose information[16]. The Supreme Court has solidified the movement and capabilities of the press[17]. However the inquiry states that freedom of expression absolutism is a stance which cannot be maintained[18]. It is evident and well evidenced that the public interest in free speech and free self-expression does, on occasion, come into tension with the public interest in individual privacy and autonomy. Both are protected in law.

Article 10[19] is held in a dynamic balance with Article 8[20].This dynamic balance has been developed in English law for protection of privacy. Lord Nicholls observed in Campbell v MGN Ltd[21]that the protection of privacy was essential to "the protection of human autonomy and dignity - the right to control the dissemination of information about one's private life and the right to the esteem and respect of other people[22]". In the same case, Lord Hoffman agreed that "a residual area of privacy the question is whether it was infringed by publication[23]". There is a reoccurring conflict between the public interest and whether what was published, is; defamatory and whether it impedes article rights[24]. Article 8(1) stipulates the right to a private life, however within domestic law there is no all encompassing cause of action for invasion of privacy[25], moreover s.1(2) Human Rights Act[26] states that article rights (between articles 2 to 12[27]) do indeed have legal enforceability within the U.K. This creates an inherent conflict between privacy and freedom speech.

Public interest, public view and political impact

Public interest seems to be paramount in dictating how the press functions, defining public interest can be problematic, public interest is an amorphous concept which is not typically defined in legislation, this flexibility is deliberate[28]. Legislators and policy makers recognise that public interest may change according to societal fluctuation.As a result when defining public interest, it can be difficult to determine whether the public coincides with courts view. In addition News Internationals' behaviour was protected under law, due to freedom of expression a cornerstone of democracy[29] nonetheless the creation of the inquiry and the subsequent criminal proceedings against Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, do indicate that the public view of public interest is misaligned with current law. .

The evidence of the singer Charlotte Church does demonstrate how the press behaved in an unacceptable manner. Ms Church gave evidence at the inquiry relating to the exposure of the private lives of her and members of her family over the course of more than a decade. From the age of 12 she was the subject of intense press scrutiny. She spoke of her experiences of being door-stepped and stalked by press and paparazzi[30] more intimate details of her private life were published as well: when she was 17 years old, a newspaper published details of her sexual experiences with an ex-boyfriend, and subsequently paid the ex-boyfriend for the story[31].

After attaining the age of majority, Ms Church continued to suffer from press intrusion; the most egregious of intrusions being of that relating to her parents who for all intents and purpose had no public life or persona. The Sun which is owned by News International, reported a story that involved the reported debauchery of her father and her mother's reaction to such allegations[32]. According to Paul McMullen; a freelance reporter the story interested the readership and that, for him, was justification enough for publication[33]. This comment indicates that the reporting public figure's family falls under the remit of public interest. However are sales of newspapers an accurate representation of public view? Since the report of the inquiry has much been done to implement the recommendations?

The recommendations of Lord Leveson within the Inquiry are; to create an independent regulartory body to replace the Press complaints commission to ensure standards are upheld and complaints are redressed. David Cameron made a statement outlining Lord Justice Leveson's report, to the House of Commons in 2011[34]. The Prime Minister raised concerns about crossing the Rubicon on enshrining regulation of press regulation into the law of the land, and that we must be wary of introducing statue that has the potential to infringe upon freedom of speech. However Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations do not suggest that a new governing body be created via statue but impose a duty on the press to create a body in accordance with criteria laid out and a further duty on government to monitor aforementioned body[35]. In response to that the leader of the opposition called for full implementation of Leveson's[36] recommendations, the timing of this statement suggests that it was reactionary comment to the caution that Prime Minister suggested. It could be construed as a populist notion to ascertain support. The inquiry was initiated to investigate the invasive practices of News International towards those within the public spotlight Such as; J.K Rowling, Milly Dowler, Kate McCann.

In the months the following the inquiry newspapers published stories about the reforms as suggested by Lord Justice Leveson. The Independent said they were supportive Lord Leveson suggestions of a regulatory body to take care of errant publications, but erred on the side of caution with regards to free speech. As well as critiquing David Cameron for his perceived hypocrisy on leading the fight for high principle due to the fact was friends with former chief editor Rebekah Brooks[37].

The Guardian further stressed how the inquiry utterly exposed the ineffectiveness of the PCC as well as making reference to how Conservative, Labour & Liberal Democrat parties were unable to agree on the how the recommendations should be implemented, with David Cameron occupying the stance mentioned above and Ed Miliband championing the slighted peoples cause, while Nick Clegg remained neutral[38].

The myriad of newspaper articles had brought the inquiry to the front of public minds, displaying the political maelstrom which had erupted in the months following the inquiry. Despite this the public appeared to be still outraged by the talk of caution and demanded action based on Lord Leveson's suggestions. J.K Rowling made a statement with regards to this supposed inaction. She said she felt something akin to being duped and angry and victims refused to meet the Culture minister[39] due to this inaction. A plethora of high-profile victims of the phone hacking scandal; Christopher Jefferies, Paul Dadge and Gerry McCann all expressed their dissatisfaction on the stance of the Prime Minister[40] Conclusively the press exist as a cornerstone of free democracy to report what is prudent to the public and whereby parliament govern according to public interest.

Development after the inquiry and conclusion

On 14th January 2013 the House of Lords debated whether there needs to be statutory regulation; at that juncture; there was still no evidence of any regulatory apparatus being installed voluntary as per the recommendations of the inquiry.[41] However in April 2013 the Privy Council approved a Royal Charter[42] in order to give legal authority to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Furthermore the implementation of The Crime and Courts Act and its new clauses[43] are indicative of movement towards a more comprehensive tort of defamation, whereby the burden of proof is placed upon the defendant to first ensure that the reported piece was compliant with public interest and their organisation was compliant with regulatory legislation[44]. Furthermore the possible awarding of exemplary damages if the press is not part of the regulatory body[45] could potentially cause the press to err on the side of caution when publishing a story

Conclusively, with the royal charter having being approved by the Privy Council, could be an initial step towards legislation which is specifically there to regulate the press and ensure sufficient recompense for any invasion of privacy or demonization of a person's reputation. Moreover royal prerogative can be overturned by parliament using statute. This means if the royal charter is too restrictive alterations can be made whereby the statute overrides the prerogative[46]. Nonetheless this charter upsets the status quo of Articles 8 and 10 European Convention of Human Rights[47] in the favour of privacy, however the framework for an independent regulation apparatus has been constructed with punitive measures in place to indicate that a line in the sand has been drawn.

Bibliography

[1] Lord Justice Leveson, The Leveson Inquiry Report (Volume 1)November 2012 HC-780-i page 4 section 1.3

[2] Lord Justice Leveson, The Leveson Inquiry Report (Volume 1) November 2012 HC-780-i page 5 section 1.3

[3] Lord Justice Leveson, The Leveson Inquiry Report (Volume 4)November 2012 HC-780-iv page 1596 part K chapter 2

[4] The Defamation Act 2013

[5] The Freedom of Information Act 2000

[6] European Convention on Human Rights 1953

[7] The Defamation Act 2013, Section 4(3)

[8] The Defamation 2013, Section 4(4)

[9] The Defamation Act 2013, Section.4(3)

[10] The Defamation Act 2013, Section.4(4)

[11] The Defamation Act 2013, Section 4(6)

[12] Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127

[13] The Freedom of Information Act 2000, Schedule 1

[14] The Defamation Act 2013

[15] Sugar (Deceased) v BBC & Anor [2012] UKSC 4

[16] Sugar (Deceased) v BBC & Anor [2012] UKSC 4 Lord Wilson para 60

[17] Sugar (Deceased) v BBC & Anor [2012] UKSC 4

[18] Lord Justice Leveson, The Leveson Inquiry Report (Volume 1)November 2012 HC-780-i

[19] European Convention of Human Rights 1953, Article 10

[20] European Convention of Human Rights 1953, Article 8

[21] Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] UKHL 22

[22] Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] UKHL 22 para 28

[23] Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] UKHL 22. para 68

[24] A v B plc [2003] QB.202 para 4, Lord Woolf CJ

[25] Wainwright v Home Office [2003] 3 WLR 1137

[26] Human Rights Act 1998, Section 1 (2)

[27] Human Rights Act 1998, Section 1 (1)

[28] Guidance for prosecutors on assessing public interest Click here to read the full article Accessed 14 November 2015

[29] Times v UK (No.2)[1992] 14 EHRR 123

[30] Charlotte Church, Transcript of afternoon hearing, 28 November 2012, Click here to read the full article pp 33-34, lines 9-5, Accessed November 2015

[31] Charlotte Church , Transcript of afternoon hearing, 28 November 2012, Click here to read the full article pp 33-34, lines 9-5, Accessed 9 November 2015

[32] Charlotte Church, Transcript of afternoon hearing, 28 November 2012, Click here to read the full article pp33-34 lines 9-5 Accessed 9 November 2015

[33] Paul McMullen, Transcript of afternoon hearing, 29 November 2012 Click here to read the full article pp42-42 lines 24-12 Accessed 9 November 2015

[34] Prime Minister's statement on Leveson inquiry report, 30 November 2012, Click here to read the full article Accessed 9 November 2015

[35] Lord Justice Leveson, An Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press: Executive Summary, : 29 November 2012 (HC 779, The Stationary Office, London)para 70-72

[36] Labour Party, Ed Miliband's statement on the Leveson inquiry, 29 November 2012, Click here to read the full article Accessed 9 November 2015

[37] Amanda Dowler, Editorial: There is only one flaw in Lord Justice Leveson's epic verdict- but it's a crucial flaw, 30 November 2012 Click here to read the full article Accessed 9 November 2015

[38] The Guardian Editorial, Press Regulation: Lord Justice Leveson throws the ball back, 29 November 2012, Click here to read the full article, accessed 9 November 2015

[39] JK Rowling, JK Rowling: I feel duped and angry by David Cameron's reaction to Leveson, 30 November 2012, Click here to read the full article Accessed November 2015

[40] Sky News, Leveson: Cameron to urge editors to act, 1 December 2012, Click here to read the full article Accessed November 2015

[41] Lord Justice Leveson, The Leveson Inquiry Report Volume 4 HC-780-IV, page 1596 part K chapter 2

[42] The Queen, Royal Charter On Self-Regulation Of The Press, 25 October 2013, Click here to read the full article, accessed 14 November 2015

[43] The Crime and Courts Act 2013, Clause 29

[44] The Crime and Courts Act 2013

[45] The Crime and Courts Act 2013, Clause 29 Section 11 (2)

[46] Laker Airways Ltd v dept of Trade [1977] 2 WLR 234

[47] European Convention of Human Rights 1953, Article8 and Article 10