The first phase of the process of implementation of the Report of Lord Justice Leveson has ended with cross-party agreement on the setting up of the “recognition body” and the accompanying incentives. The parties have agreed to establish the “recognition panel” by Royal Charter [pdf].
At the same time, provisions relating to costs and exemplary damages were inserted into the Crime and Courts Bill. Finally, an amendment was made to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to protect certain future Royal Charters against being changed by the Privy Council without Parliamentary approval. The agreement was announced in the House of Commons on 18 March 2013 and was followed by a debate on the Royal Charter.
This package was welcomed most of those who spoke in the debate and the House of Commons resolved
That this House has considered the welcome publication of the draft royal charter by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and the Prime Minister’s intention to submit the charter to the Privy Council for Her Majesty’s approval at the Privy Council’s May meeting.
The cross-party agreement was welcomed by the campaigning group Hacked Off, by the Guardian and the Independent which described it as a “Leveson deal worth backing“. The reaction of others was less positive. The Newspaper Society claimed that the recommendations “would place a crippling burden on the UK’s 1100 local newspapers inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish”. According to the Daily Mail “fears grow of a threat to free speech”.
The Daily Mail Group, News International, Newspaper Society, Professional Publishers Association, Telegraph Media Group and Northern & Shell released a “joint statement” on Monday afternoon in which they said they had only just seen the proposals and, as a result, “we are not able to give any response on behalf of the industry to this afternoon’s proposals until we have had time to study them”.
The Daily Mail has an interesting graphic on the operation of the new system – which sets out the industry’s view of the operation of the new system (and which includes the so-called “Foundation Board” established by Lord Hunt to assist in the designed of the process). This indicates the role which “Industry Funding Board” intends to play – in advising on industry members of the appointments panel and funding the new system.
Surprisingly, the most controversial aspect of the package seems to be the wholly anodyne new clause inserted into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which was in the following terms
Royal Charters: requirements for Parliamentary approval
Where a body is established by Royal Charter after 1 March 2013 with functions relating to the carrying on of an industry, no recommendation may be made to Her Majesty in Council to amend the body’s Charter or dissolve the body unless any requirements included in the Charter on the date it is granted for Parliament to approve the amendment or dissolution have been met.”
It should be noted that this does not mention the press or press regulation. It simply provides that future Royal Charters which include a provision which says that they cannot be amended without parliamentary approval cannot be amended by the Privy Council (that is, by Ministers) until that approval has been obtained. In other words, the provision protects such Charters against political interference. It is difficult to see how this could possibly be objected to by the press. Rather than “statutory underpinning” it is best described as “statutory protection”.
There are four more phases in the process which are required before a new system of press regulation is in place:
- The setting up of the “Recognition Panel”: members must be appointed and a “recognition system” in place
- The application for recognition: publishers will have to formulate proposals for a new self-regulatory body and submit them to the Recognition Panel for consideration. The Recognition Panel will consider the application for recognition, suggest any changes that it considers necessary and then grant “recognition”.
- The establishment and operation of the self-regulator: Once the self-regulator has been recognised it will be able to be established and begin operation.
It seems likely that this process will take many months. In the interim, the PCC will apparently continue in operation dealing with the “complaints” function.