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Press regulation after Leveson - unfinished business?

Published Monday, March 12, 2018

This Library Briefing Paper looks at press regulation after the Leveson report.

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In November 2012, Lord Justice Leveson, now Sir Brian Leveson, published his report on the “culture, practices and ethics of the press”. The report covered only Part 1 of his inquiry. The current system of press regulation is a response to this report.

Part 2 of the inquiry proposed to look at relationships between newspaper organisations and the police, politicians, prosecuting authorities, and relevant regulatory bodies during the “phone hacking” scandal of 2002-2011, as well as failures of corporate governance at newspaper groups. It has not started.

Press regulation – the current system

A Royal Charter on press regulation was granted on 30 October 2013. This incorporated key recommendations from the Leveson Report, allowing for one or more independent self-regulatory bodies for the press to be established. Any such body would be recognised and overseen by a Press Recognition Panel. Publishers who joined a recognised regulatory body might expect to receive more favourable treatment if action was taken against them in the courts. The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) came into being on 3 November 2014.

Two press regulators are now in existence. Most newspapers have signed up to IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has no intention of applying for recognition. A small number of publications have joined IMPRESS. This body is “Leveson-compliant” and was recognised by the PRP on 25 October 2016 as an “approved” regulator.

Other publications, for example the Guardian, have held back from joining any regulator and have appointed their own internal readers’ ombudsmen.

Two legislative changes arising from Leveson were designed to provide financial incentives to newspaper publishers to join a regulator recognised by the PRP:

  • Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would make it easier for the public to challenge illegality by news publishers who choose not to subscribe to an approved regulator because it would mean publishers having to pay both sides’ legal costs, whether they win or lose the case. This section has not been brought into force.
  • Other sections of the 2013 Act offer protection from legal costs in certain civil litigation claims to publishers who do sign up to the new model and make “exemplary damages” available in those claims for the courts to award as a punitive measure against publishers who refuse to sign up to the new framework. These sections are in force.

Press regulation is a devolved area: the sections of the 2013 Act discussed in this paper only extend to England and Wales. The Royal Charter has been adopted in Scotland, but differences between the legal systems may lead to divergent outcomes.

DCMS/Home Office consultation (November 2016)

In November 2016, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office published a consultation on:

  • whether to proceed with part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry; and
  • whether to commence section 40 of the 2013 Act in full or in part.

The consultation closed on 10 January 2017.

A judicial review application arising from the consultation was served against the Government in December 2016. This claimed that the consultation was “misleading and unbalanced in fundamental ways”. The Government committed not to take any final decisions on the matters raised in the consultation until the outcome of the application. This was rejected by the High Court 21 March 2017.

Government response to the consultation (March 2018)

In a statement to the Commons on 1 March 2018, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State, announced that the Government was formally closing the Leveson inquiry. He also said that section 40 would not be commenced and would be repealed at the “earliest opportunity”. However, the statement has not settled these issues because of Lords amendments to the Data Protection Bill

The Data Protection Bill [HL] 2017/19 - Lords amendments on press regulation

In January 2018, when the Data Protection Bill [HL] was considered at Report stage in the House of Lords, Baroness Hollins moved an amendment that would require the Secretary of State to establish an “Inquiry into issues arising from data protection breaches committed by or on behalf of news publishers”. Baroness Hollins said that the “spirit” of her amendment “would be fully satisfied by the completion of the second part of the Leveson inquiry”. The amendment was passed by 238 votes to 209.

The clause added by Baroness Hollins’ amendment is now clause 142 of Bill 153 (as introduced in the Commons). The Government does not support the clause.

Also at Report stage in the Lords, Earl Attlee moved an amendment that “would incentivise media operators to sign up to an independent press regulator in respect of data protection claims”. It would be “achieved in the same way as the yet-to-be-commenced section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013”. The amendment was passed by 217 votes to 210.

The clauses added by Earl Attlee’s amendment are now clauses 168 and 169 of Bill 153. The Government does not support the clauses.

When the Bill had its second reading in the Commons, Tom Watson said that Labour would seek to retain the Lords amendments.




Commons Briefing papers CBP-7576

Author: John Woodhouse

Topics: Media, Press

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