The horse and cart problem of the hacking inquiry
Lord Justice Leveson launched his media inquiry with a “look but don’t touch” no questions press conference. I wonder if he was influenced by Sir John Chilcot’s experience launching the Iraq Inquiry.
I remember one question at their opening press conference asking the members of the inquiry team to put their hand up if they’d opposed the Iraq war. Anyway, LJL set out how he intends to go about the complicated business of reporting on the media before the police have finished investigating what went wrong.
The “initial” inquiry report originally scheduled for within 12 months may take longer because the government has expanded the terms of reference. The second inquiry, absorbing what the police have found out, could follow after a gap. The first public session of the inquiry will be held in September.
There will be “seminars” as with the Gibson inquiry into detainees. A key phrase in his opening statement was: “I believe that it should be possible to focus on the extent of the problem (of utterly inappropriate behaviour in the press) which would not prejudice an investigation without examining who did what to whom.”
And that’s the heart of the horse and cart problem of the inquiry. It must come up with recommendations without being able to probe into the “who did what to whom” of phone hacking et al.
There are declarations of interest from Lord Justice Leveson and his team – here are the highlights:
- LJL himself admits to accepting Matthew Freud’s offer of pro bono assistance in improving public confidence in sentencing policy and attended “two large evening events at Mr Freud’s London home” (the most recent of them on 25 January). People like Mr Freud thrive on looking connected and you might think it a touch unworldly of LJL to go to such events.
- LJL told the Lord Chief Justice of this before his appointment to the inquiry.
- LJL is close to the new Acting Commissioner of the Met, Tim Godwin, and attended his 50th birthday party – but TG isn’t involved in the Met’s past engagement or lack of it with phone hacking.
- Other inquiry panel member Elinor Goodman, late of this parish, declares that she “played tennis with David Cameron on holiday … many years ago” proving yet again how good she was at spotting political talent early.
- George Jones, former Political Editor of the Daily Telegraph, makes what reads more like a declaration of intent than interest – he says the former Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis (who will probably be a witness at the inquiry) is the man who “dispensed” with George’s services as political editor on the paper.
LJL has a vested interest in getting this inquiry (in both parts) done as quickly as possible. At 62 he is a senior judge whose career is regarded as still climbing. If he can wrap up the whole business in 3 years he will still be in with a chance of a shot at one of the very top jobs like Lord Chief Justice (retirement age 70). If this drags on or in any way becomes an object of ridicule his chances of promotion will be severely damaged.
LJL made some surprising remarks in his opening statement. He repeatedly talked about his inquiry focusing on “the press” even though his remit has been widened to include broadcasting and the web. He says that “no action was taken” after the 2006 Information Commissioner’s report on media organisation’s use of private investigators.
I’m not sure how he can be sure “no action was taken” and I have heard from someone steeped in all of this that several newsrooms may have tidied up their operations after that report even though the News of the World may have ramped up their dodgy activities around this time. LJL also refers to “utterly inappropriate behaviour of small sections of the press.” I’m not sure how he can be sure it is small sections of the press.
More from Channel 4 News: phone-hacking – directory of inquiries
LJL says he will use his powers to demand documents from everyone, not wait to see what comes to him voluntarily and then ask for the stuff that couldn’t be extracted. But that won’t preclude “waves” of requests for evidence as the panel’s understanding of what is relevant and available takes shape.
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