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LEVESON INQUIRY:
CULTURE, PRACTICE
AND ETHICS OF THE PRESS

Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks (28 July, 2011) at the commencement of the Inquiry announced by the Prime Minister (13 July, 2011) and reporting to the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Secretary into the culture, practices and ethics of the Press.

Good morning.  My name is Brian Leveson.  Although flattered that various politicians and members of the press have elevated me to the rank of peerage, I am not Lord Leveson: my judicial rank is that of a Lord Justice of Appeal.  On 13 July, the Prime Minister announced that I would be appointed to chair an Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 and promulgated draft Terms of Reference.  When I made a statement following that announcement, I said that when the panel of experts has been appointed, I would provide more information on how I intended that the Inquiry should proceed and in relation to the calling for evidence and that I would seek to do so before the end of the month.  On 20 July, the Prime Minister announced both the final Terms of Reference and the names of the panel of assessors to assist me in the task and we met informally, for the first time, on 21 July.

The announcement from the Prime Minister was to the effect that the Inquiry would report to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport and the Home Secretary.  Formal instruments of appointment to each of us have been issued by or on behalf of the Secretaries of State dated yesterday and I am now in a position not only to introduce the six panel members  but also to provide some further detail as I promised.

I deal first with my position and that of the panel.   From the time that I was asked to Chair this Inquiry, I have been clear that the first formal public statement would commence with a declaration of any link or contact that I or any of the panellists have had with any of those who or whose organisations might play a part in the subject matter of the Inquiry, however remote such contact may be.  I have no doubt that we have all been chosen for our experience of the law, the press, regulation and governance, policing or politics and the expertise which has come with that experience.  It is inevitable, therefore, that there are such contacts or links and there should be no apology for this.   Had I had the slightest doubt about my own position, I would not have accepted the appointment and I also make it clear that I am satisfied that what the panellists have said creates no conflict of interest for them or for me.  Because of the span of years, it is, of course, possible that our recall may not be completely comprehensive but the information is the best of our recollection and provided in the spirit of complete transparency which I intend should be one of the principal objectives of all of our work.  The details are set out in writing, copies of which are available.  They will be placed on our website when it is running.  Each was put before the Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Home Office prior to the signing of the instruments of appointment under sections 4 and 11 of the 2005 Act and if there is to be any challenge to the constitution of the Inquiry, I draw attention to the time-limits set out in s.38 of the Act.

Let me now say something about the way in which I intend to work.  I am delighted to have the assistance of such an extremely distinguished panel.   I intend that each should have a central role in the work and that the final report will be a collaborative effort.  I will strive for unanimity; if any particular recommendation is not unanimous, I shall make the contrary view clear.

I turn now to the Terms of Reference which, in the week following the initial statement by the Prime Minister on 13 July grew very substantially although the time within which the initial report is to be delivered remained at 12 months.  I recognise the vital importance of reaching a number of conclusions within that broad time frame and I will strive to do so, but not at all cost. Given the scope of the Inquiry and the likely quantity of evidence, the Inquiry team itself and all of those who participate in the process will have to exercise very considerable discipline and, where appropriate, restraint.  It is critical that we concentrate on the central and most important issues.

The focus of the Inquiry is ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ in the context of the latter’s relationship with the public, the police and politicians. All of these matters overlap, and my goal must be to consider what lessons, if any, may be learned from past events and what recommendations, if any, should be made for the future, in particular as regards press regulation, governance and other systems of oversight.

In the first instance, the Inquiry will focus primarily on what I am calling the relationship between the press and the public, and the related issue of press regulation although I emphasise that we do not intend to lose sight of the other aspects of the terms of reference.  In order to start from the right place, therefore, I intend to hold a series of seminars in October so that we can focus on the perspective of all those involved: these seminars will include, among other topics, the law, the ethics of journalism, the practice and pressures of investigative journalism both from the broadsheet and tabloid perspective and issues of regulation all in the context of supporting the integrity, freedom and independence of the press, while ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards.  At some stage, there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom.  I hope that an appropriate cross section of the entire profession (including those from the broadcast media) will be involved in each discussion, their purpose being to ensure that the Inquiry can begin to concentrate on the principal concerns.  As soon as possible thereafter, the Inquiry will hear evidence from those best placed to assist it on each these matters.

So that it is clear, I also intend, in due course, that similar seminars should be held in relation to press relationships with the police, politicians and the political process: that will include how future concerns about media policy regulation, the plurality of the media and cross media ownership should be addressed by all.  It may also shed light on the reason for the fact that no action was taken following the 2006 report of the Information Commissioner.   Evidence will be sought on all these topics as well.  These investigations may well proceed concurrently rather than consecutively but much depends on how extensive is the evidence that we obtain on each topic and our capacity to deal with these very different issues at the same time.

Looking forward, I presently expect that towards the end of the process we will hold a further series of seminars to obtain feedback on preliminary conclusions so that we can ensure that all the evidence and all views upon that evidence have been taken into account.

I turn now to the process of gathering evidence.  As you will be aware, the 2005 Act gives me the power to require potential witnesses and those with relevant documents in their custody to provide me with witnesses statements and those documents as the case may be.  Although I have no doubt that many would be happy voluntarily to provide me with this information, in order to maintain an ordered approach to the collection of evidence, I intend to exercise those powers as soon as possible, matching the broad sequencing of my Inquiry as already explained.  No discourtesy is intended to those in receipt of a notice and no conclusions should be drawn from the identity of those who are required to assist me and those who are not.  I make it clear that my powers will undoubtedly be exercised on more than one occasion in order to meet all the Inquiry’s objectives.

Formal evidence obtained by exercising statutory power should not be the only way of obtaining evidence.  I am fully aware that many journalists, papers and magazines have devoted many years of attention to the criminal, unethical and utterly inappropriate behaviour of small sections of the press and I recognise that the present inquiry is in no small part the result of such journalism.  I could, of course, require journalists to provide me with their files of examples for they are indeed essential to provide a factual background to the important issues that we must discuss but, at this stage, I would rather invite editors, proprietors of magazines and journalists to assist me by providing a wide range of examples of what is contended to be inappropriate for one reason or another across the fullest range of titles.  It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists then operating at the News of the World but I would encourage all to take a wider picture of the public good and help me grapple with the width and depth of the problem.  In that regard, whereas I am determined not to prejudice any criminal investigation or potential prosecution, I believe that it should be possible to focus on the extent of the problem which would not prejudice an investigation without examining who did what to whom which might.  I have, however, invited the Director of Public Prosecutions to make submissions to me about the extent to which he considers it would be appropriate for me to delve into these matters and, if necessary, I shall rule on the issue.

The same point can be made about other aspects of the Inquiry.  At one level, contact between the press and politicians and press and the police could be analysed on a case by case basis.  The thrust of this investigation, however, is to get into the real impact that the relationships between each have upon the way in which both do their work.  Using the same call for co-operation, I do invite those who have a positive contribution to make to these issues to provide information without necessarily formally being required to do so under the Act.

Finally, it is, of course, possible for anyone to provide information to the Inquiry.  It will all be carefully considered but I make no commitment that anyone who does so, whether in response to a formal request for a statement or otherwise, will necessarily be called to give oral evidence.

I conclude with a reference to procedural issues.  I intend to hold a preliminary hearing in September which will address key aspects of the way in which this Inquiry will be undertaken.   Anyone who wishes to be identified as a core participant within the meaning of Rule 5 of the Inquiries Rules 2006 should do so before 31 August 2011 to the Secretary to the Inquiry c/o the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2A 2LL.  Contact details will change when the Inquiry team have established a web site and e-mail links.