On 6 January 2013, Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press, published its Leveson Draft Bill [pdf], a short parliamentary bill to put into law Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on press regulation.
Produced in consultation with victims of press abuse and supporters of Hacked Off, the Leveson Bill has been drafted by Hugh Tomlinson QC, the chair of Hacked Off, and legislative expert and specialist Parliamentary Counsel Daniel Greenberg.
Designed to reflect as closely as possible in legislative form the recommendations in the inquiry report, the bill:
- Enshrines the freedom of the press in statute for the first time, making attempted ministerial or other state interference in the media explicitly illegal,
- Specifies the standards which the voluntary independent press self-regulator will have to meet to satisfy public demand for a system that is effective and independent of Government, Parliament and the newspaper industry,
- Proposes a transparent, democratic system to appoint a Recognition Commission to verify on behalf of the public that the press self-regulator is doing its job properly,
- Gives legal effect to Leveson’s ‘carrots and sticks’, incentivising publishers to join the self regulator through access, under specified circumstances, to reduced costs in court proceedings and protection from exemplary damages,
- Is a faithful representation of the Leveson Report, sticking so far as possible to the intention, content and language of the Inquiry conclusions, with the bare minimum of wording changes and additions required to meet the requirements of legislation.
The Leveson Bill will now be put forward for public consultation with victims of press abuse, supporters of Hacked Off, civil society groups and other interested parties, with a view to providing the best possible basis for the legislation that Lord Justice Leveson declared essential to underpin a regulatory system that breaks the historic pattern of failure. At the same time, Hacked Off will consult on the draft bill produced by the Government and that produced by the Labour Party.
Professor Brian Cathcart, Director of Hacked Off said:
Lord Justice Leveson conducted a thorough and painstaking inquiry, hearing all the evidence on all sides, and he delivered a thoughtful and balanced report, making clear recommendations on the best way forward. His report was very critical of the press and also of politicians, so neither group is in any position to quibble with his findings.
The right thing to do now is to implement the judge’s recommendations on press regulation in full and without delay. Our draft Bill – the Leveson Bill – offers a plain and straightforward way of doing that. This is not a bill for press regulation as Hacked Off or anyone else would wish it: it is a bill to underpin voluntary press self-regulation in the way Lord Justice Leveson wanted it.
There are other schemes and ideas in the air, including other draft bills and a proposal for a Royal Charter.
None of these complies with the Leveson Report and all are likely to water down or distort his proposals. Only the Leveson Bill can deliver the considered and balanced new scheme designed by the judge to safeguard press freedom while at the same time protecting the public from press abuses.
Hacked Off calls on all MPs, and peers and every group or individual interested in these matters, to read the bill, participate in the consultation and give this process their backing, so that we can put behind us 70 years of editorial unaccountability and abuses. This is the best way to achieve a free and vigorous press that does not wilfully trample on the rights of citizens.
Professor Cathcart has written about the Hacked Off Bill in the Guardian.