The Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, has today made a statement on matters relating press regulation and announced a consultation on Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry and the commencement of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
She said that it had “hitherto been the view of Government” that as we wait for a number of elements of the new self-regulatory regime to settle in—the exemplary damages provisions of the 2013 Act, the press developing an effective form of voluntary self-regulation, and self-regulators applying for recognition the time has not been right to commence section 40.
However, she said now that IMPRESS had been recognised by the Press Regulation Panel the time had now come to give further consideration to commencing section 40. In addition, now that that the final criminal case relating to the Leveson inquiry had entered its final stages it was an appropriate time to consider the next steps on Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry.
She said that the Government was
“keen to take stock and seek the views of the public and interested parties—not least those who have been the victims of press abuse. We will also formally consult Sir Brian Leveson, in his role as inquiry chair, on the question of part 2”
As a result, she announced a public consultation, inviting comments on both section 40 and part 2 of the Leveson inquiry from organisations that are affected by it and from the public. This will run for 10 weeks from today—1 November—until 10 January 2017. It is laid out in a consultation document entitled, “Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation” [pdf].
The campaigning group Hacked Off commented
“Many of the victims of press abuse were thrust into the media spotlight after tragic circumstances, and gave evidence over 18 months to Lord Leveson reliving the traumas they suffered. Today’s announcement of a further consultation from the Secretary of State is a disgraceful attempt to force them to go through that all over again.”
This “consultation” is no more than an attempt by the Government to re-run the Leveson Inquiry, but with a conflicted Government Minister replacing an independent Judge. That is the last way decisions over press regulation should be taken.”
On the possible cancellation of Leveson Part Two, it said:
“The postponement and potential cancellation of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry is an outrageous betrayal of promises made to victims of press abuse and to the British people by the former Prime Ministers. Leveson Part Two is to look into evidence of corruption into police and the press, and a series of cover-ups. It is almost unthinkable that a Prime Minister who claims to be willing to stand up to police and corporate interests would even consider postponing let alone cancelling an inquiry into cover-ups and corruption in our major national institutions. This consultation will not change the fact that the Government gives every impression of being in hock to powerful press interests and ignoring not just the victims of press abuse, but the fact that promises were made under oath at a public inquiry and to Parliament in the Cross-Party Agreement.”
On the continuing interference to block the commencement of section 40 through another consultation, Hacked Off said
“Section 40 was an integral part of the Leveson recommendations and to provide access to justice for those seeking to sue a newspaper for libel or intrusion. This unnecessary consultation is an attempt to head off a rebellion by the Government’s own backbenchers and opposition in the House of Lords over the Government’s caving to Rupert Murdoch and his fellow proprietors. It is more than 5 years since the Government allowed a criminal newspaper editor into the heart of Downing Street, and the Government’s current approach suggests that the malign influence of the press barons and those who would cover up press wrongdoing is very much alive in Whitehall.”