Thursday 24 May 2012

Hackgate for Beginners - The Leveson Inquiry

After Operation Weeting commenced in January 2011 there began to be calls for an independent inquiry into phone hacking from a number of political and private figures, along with a number of newspapers, in particular the Guardian, who in July 4th 2011 reported that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked by News of the World journalists, who deleted voicemails left on the phone, creating a moment of false hope for her family.
With this revelation the phone hacking scandal soon became the top of news agenda, with celebrities and other public figures reacting with disgust and calling for an immediate public inquiry, and on July 6th British Prime Minister David Cameron promised that he would set up a public inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, describing the claims in the Guardian story as “disgusting”.  Opposition leader Ed Miliband went onto say that David Cameron had failed “to react with the necessary speed” and urged him to set up a wide-ranging, judge-led public inquiry immediately.
The setting up of the Inquiry
On July 17th 2011 David Cameron set out the remit for the inquiry under the Inquiry Act 2005 (requiring witnesses to give evidence under oath), naming Lord Justice Leveson as the chairman of the inquiry, and stating that it would look into the ethics and culture of the British media as well as specific claims about phone hacking at the News of the World, the shortcomings of the initial police inquiry, and allegations of illicit payments to police by the press. 
Lord Justice Leveson appointed a panel of 6 assessors, who are experts in various areas relevant to the Inquiry, and described their role during the September 28th meeting of the Inquiry:
“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.”
He also appointed a team of 6 barristers to act as Counsel to the Inquiry, who provide legal advice to the Inquiry, as well as questioning witnesses.  If you’ve been watching the Inquiry you’ll probably be most familiar with Robert Jay QC, who regularly questions witnesses, and has built up a bit of a fan base among followers of the Leveson Inquiry.
Lord Leveson has said the inquiry will be in two parts, the first being split into four modules.  The first part will address:
And the second part will address:
The culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and the police; it is to consider the extent to which the current regulatory regime has failed and whether there has been a failure to act upon any previous warnings about media misconduct.
The four modules that make up part one are:
The extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other media organisations or other organisations. It will also consider the extent to which any relevant police force investigated allegations relating to News International, and whether the police received corrupt payments or were otherwise complicit in misconduct.
Module 1: The relationship between the press and the public and looks at phone-hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour.
Module 2: The relationships between the press and police and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest.
Module 3: The relationship between press and politicians.
Module 4: Recommendations for a more effective policy and regulation that supports the integrity and freedom of the press while encouraging the highest ethical standards.
At the same time Lord Leveson also detailed the Inquiry’s terms of reference.
Lord Leveson also announced a series of briefing sessions would take place before the Inquiry began to provide the members of the Inquiry with factual background information that was relevant to the inquiry:
He also held a series of seminars “to enable consideration of the central public policy issues in the Inquiry’s terms of reference to be enriched by and examined from across a range of informed perspectives.”
Core participants
One key feature of the Leveson Inquiry is the assignment of Core Participant (CP) status to individuals or organisations, who can become CPs if they meet one of more of the following criteria:
  • The person played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates;
  • The person has a significant interest in an important aspect of those matters to which the inquiry relates; or
  • The person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in its report.
Among other things Core Participants have a right to view witness statements from people giving evidence to the inquiry before they appear, and have the right to appoint a legal representative who may apply to the chairman to ask questions of a witness giving oral evidence to the Inquiry.  Current Core Participants include a number of newspaper groups, the Metropolitan Police, and the NUJ.  The victims are for the most part represented by David Sherborne, who you will occasionally see asking questions to various witnesses.
The Leveson Inquiry so far
Module one of the Leveson Inquiry made headlines with a raft of celebrities and high profile figures appearing and describing how they’d be harassed by the press.  The first day of Module one had the parents of Milly Dowler talking about their treatment by the press, followed by Hugh Grant, which made headlines from day one.  That that followed over the next weeks by high profile figures such as Steve Coogan, JK Rowling, Max Mosley, and Charlotte Church, among others, keeping the story in the press.  As the weeks passed media interest waned, with only the occasional absurd statements such as “privacy is for paedos” making it to the wider press. 
However, as the Inquiry has gone on a picture has been built showing the relationship between the press, politicians, and police that’s shown collusion on many levels and in a sometimes illegal fashion.  Many witnesses for organisations under the spotlight have shown they are unable to recall facts about key events, or have used such convoluted language to avoid admitting to anything under oath that they are practically unintelligible.  Due to current police investigations it’s been impossible to ask certain witnesses about events they’ve been arrested for, for example Rebekah Brooks, but more and more information is being made available which exposes criminality, corruption and sleaze at a variety of organisations, including the British government.
It would be quite impossible to cover the many developments in the Leveson Inquiry, but a number of news websites have good archives of past day’s events, in particular The Guardian and the BBC News website.

[Forward to Controversial Cops and News Corp.]
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