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Lord Justice Leveson has said he is not giving his “endorsement, let alone agreement” to a proposed reformed setup of the Press Complaints Commission, adding that and that a new package will be “subjected to forensic analysis”.
“My mind remains open to all options,” Leveson said in his opening remarks at this morning’s Inquiry session, responding to last week’s disbanding of the current PCC, and its chair Lord Hunt’s subsequent draft proposal for a new body “with teeth”.
“To say that the PCC was never a regulator (…) only underlines the concern that the public have been misled about what it could do,” Leveson said, raising a number of questions for the as yet unnamed new body. He took issue with the five-year rolling contract endorsed by Lord Hunt, questioning if it was “sufficient to deal with the fundamental problem of industry acceptance.”
“The threat of what I might recommend may well encourage to sign up those who (…) do not consider that the PCC worked for them, but that simply potentially puts the problem off for five years,” Leveson said. He added that “previous crises have concerned adequacy of regulation and there was no problem of publishers leaving the system.”
He also questioned the structure of the new body, which, as Lord Hunt outlined, would have two arms: one that deals with complaints and mediation, and another that audits and enforces standards and compliance with the editors’ code. “What is the view about concurrent legal proceedings and why should the complaints arm not be able to award compensation,” Leveson asked. “Is the new independent assessor an appeal mechanism and, if so, what will be done to prevent complaint fatigue and what has been said to be the grinding down of complainants by passage of time? What is meant by a serious or systemic breakdown in standards?”
The judge stressed his role would be to recommend what he perceived to be the “most effective and potentially enduring” system. “It will then be for others to decide how to proceed,” he said.
Leveson also responded to today’s call from the Hacked Off Campaign for the Operation Motorman database to be published. He said core participants’ barrister, David Sherbone was “at liberty” to formally submit the reuqest if he felt it were appropriate or may highlight a broader culture of press practices rather than “who did what to whom.”
Also today the Inquiry heard from Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Cressida Dick, and Sir Dennis O’Connor of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
Dick outlined her approach to relations with the media as not “obsessively monastic”, noting that she preferred to speak with journalists through the Met’s press office if a reporter was seeking information. She told the Inquiry she held monthly briefings with two to three journalists, which she said were “important to break down barriers”. Yet the meetings did not produce “a single scoop or really good story.”
“Certainly I wasn’t saying anything secret or exciting,” Dick said.
Questioned over the decision taken by then Assistant Commissioner John Yates not to re-open rhe phone hacking investigation in 2009 in light of reports by the Guardian was “not only poor, it was disastrous.”
Dick clarified that Sue Akers, the Met officer leading the current Operation Weeting investigation into hacking, was now working more widely under section one of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in terms of potential lines of inquiry than during the original 2006 investigation.
“Public opinion in terms of these issues is in a very different place than [in] 2006 when we were completely dominated by the terrorist threat,” Dick added, reiterating the testimony of other Met staff.
O’Connor spoke in favour of a “common frame of reference” for police forces in dealing with the media, but on more than one occasion warned against constraining relations between them.
“The last thing I would do is restrain the relation between the police and the press,” he said. “That would defy reality.”
He said he hoped the Inquiry could help reinforce the legitimacy of the police.
The Inquiry continues tomorrow with the Met’s senior information officer, Sara Cheesley, and communications director, Dick Fedorcio.
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson